Farm Labor Crisis: Speak Out, Speak Up, Speak Often

Fieldworker_generic

“There has never been a more important time in all my years of working in Florida agriculture for growers to reach out to their lawmakers.” That’s Mike Carlton’s take on the current situation surrounding agricultural labor and immigration policy. Carlton, Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association’s director of labor relations, says the outcome of pending federal or state legislation could have a major impact on growers’ ability to secure labor.

Senator Marco Rubio
http://rubio.senate.gov/public
Phone: 202-224-3041

Senator Bill Nelson
http://billnelson.senate.gov
Phone: 202-224-5274

Florida Governor Rick Scott
www.flgov.com
Phone: 850-488-7146

U.S. Congress Members of the Judiciary Committee:

Dennis Ross (Florida’s 12th District)
http://dennisross.house.gov
Phone: 863-644-8215

Ted Deutch (Florida’s 19th District)
http://deutch.house.gov
Phone: 561-988-6302

Sandy Adams (Florida’s 24th District)
http://adams.house.gov
Phone: 407-977-7601

Immigration policy is a perennial issue and one that has found no reasonable solutions in decades. In the political world, it is easy to understand why — it is an issue that fires strong emotions. Just scroll the talk radio dial any given day and the rhetoric is strong: “call your lawmaker and tell them to build a wall; and no way to amnesty.” And do they ever call, often crashing the Washington, D.C. switchboard whenever any significant immigration policy is up for a vote.
Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL) reports his office has been inundated with calls regarding E-Verify. The vast majority of the calls, numbering in the thousands, are in favor of mandatory E-Verify, but they are coming from outside his District largely from organized anti-immigration groups. So, it is within this framework that growers must realize they are operating and make the call to his or her state and federal elected officials. They must communicate the critical need for a workable guestworker program regardless of whatever immigration reform may come to pass.

E-Verify On The Move

Because of public outcry, states including Georgia and Alabama have passed strict immigration laws, which include an E-Verify provision. Florida narrowly avoided a similar law being passed last year, and it remains one of Governor Rick Scott’s top priorities. At presstime, HR 2885 had passed out of the House Judiciary Committee with its next stop being the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives for a heated debate. A provision that would provide a more user-friendly alternative to H-2A was struck from consideration in the Committee.
E-Verify is a government-run database that uses Social Security numbers to determine if job applicants are authorized to work in the U.S. Currently, the program is voluntary, but HR 2885 would make E-Verify mandatory.
With so much of agriculture dependent on migrant labor, experts warn mandatory E-Verify could create massive disruptions in the labor supply. Estimates put the number of farmworkers in the U.S. at 1.2 to 1.4 million, with about 75% falsely documented. In Florida, there are an estimated 150,000 farmworkers in the state with a similar rate of false documentation, although the rate among purely harvest workers is likely much higher.
Because the issue is so political, Carlton says it is impossible to predict how state and federal lawmakers will act on new immigration policy. “My biggest fear is people are so emotional on this issue and set [in their opinion] that we are going to have to have significant farm losses before legislators wake up,” he says. “We saw a taste of this in Georgia and in Alabama after they passed their laws.
“We don’t know the consequences of what’s happening in Georgia and Alabama and how it will impact labor here in Florida this year. We know farmworkers were avoiding driving through Georgia last year and likely will avoid Alabama. It almost blocks us off.”
A study conducted by the University of Georgia surveyed growers that represented approximately 46.6% of the state’s blueberry, blackberry, Vidalia onion, bell pepper, squash, cucumber, and watermelon acreage available for harvest this spring.
Surveyed growers reported a loss of anticipated crop revenue for the spring/summer harvest of more than $74 million. Assuming the grower responses in the study are representative of all growers of that commodity, the total loss at the farm gate attributed to labor shortage for the seven crops studied would be about $140 million. Total losses to the state’s economy are pegged at $391 million.

Not So Safe Haven

Local Labor Mythology

People with strong ideological positions on both sides insist that in the absence of these guestworkers, local labor will fill the void. From the right, comes the call, “Send them home and let them come in the legal way.” From the left, “End this form of indentured servitude, raise the pay more, locals will go back to work, and the President’s unemployment problem goes away.”
The problem with both the left and right’s point of view is the evidence of what’s happened in Georgia, and the troubles growers had sourcing labor here in Florida just with the threat of a state mandated E-Verify. The NCAE data shows that state workforce agencies referred 36,000 domestic workers to H-2A employers in 2010. Only 5% of those locals worked through their contract period.
And, what of those workers who should get in line and follow the legal channels for citizenship? According to a report by Reason Foundation, it is virtually impossible for unskilled workers to achieve citizenship. Even skilled workers face thousands of dollars in fees and wait times up to 11 to 16 years to obtain a green card and gain U.S. citizenship.
The only answer that works for agriculture is a temporary guestworker program that allows people in to work and return home after the job is done. This program must not burdened by prohibitive costs and bureaucracy that exemplifies the H-2A program. What is certain is this program will not be created without the concerted, unified, and collective voice of all agriculture, including you.

Little Letter, Big Fine

Topics:

Leave a Reply

Citrus Stories
Growers participate in a real-time industry survey session at the 2016 Florida Citrus Show
Citrus
December 6, 2016
Florida Citrus Community Tasked To Unify For Stronger Future
A group effort is necessary to forge ahead. Read More
sprayer applying bactericides to citrus trees
Insect & Disease Update
December 5, 2016
Best Practices For Bactericides Key To Vetting Citrus Solution
Approval finally cleared for antimicrobial applications, and now growers wait and hope to see positive results. Read More
Low-volume overhead irrigation system at Jones Potato Farm
Citrus
December 5, 2016
South Florida Endures Driest November On Record
Region has not experienced any significant rainfall since Hurricane Matthew. Read More
Grower Jonathan Brown of Bethel Farms inspects his citrus grove.
Citrus
December 2, 2016
Citrus Survey Shows Florida Growers Are Bully For Bactericides
Growers are betting unique crop protection tools will bridge the gap to bigger HLB solutions. Read More
Photo credit: USDA
Citrus
December 1, 2016
Bio Huma Netics App Now Released For Android Smart Phones
App includes foliar application calculators and ability to save application data. Read More
CBS This Morning citrus story interview
Citrus
December 1, 2016
Telling The Story Of Florida Citrus More Important Now Than Ever
HLB forces an emphasis on grassroots efforts to paint a positive picture. Read More
Citrus Postbloom Fruit Drop field day hosted by BASF in Florida
Insect & Disease Update
November 30, 2016
Florida’s Top Citrus Growers Sound Off On Critical Matters
Fighting pyllids, better weather, and new varieties will hopefully bring improved yields. Read More
The Latest
Citrus
December 9, 2016
Latest Florida Citrus Crop Forecast Runs…
Despite crop protection challenges, all-orange production projection from USDA remains unchanged. Read More
Citrus
December 8, 2016
A Look Inside Florida’s Newest Cannabis …
Given the official go-ahead to dispense alternative medicine, Knox Medical unveils its state-of-the-art lab. Read More
Citrus
December 6, 2016
Report: Florida Cannabis Business To App…
Lofty projections include a compound annual growth rate of 140%. Read More
Citrus
December 6, 2016
Florida Citrus Community Tasked To Unify…
A group effort is necessary to forge ahead. Read More
Citrus
December 5, 2016
South Florida Endures Driest November On…
Region has not experienced any significant rainfall since Hurricane Matthew. Read More
Citrus
December 2, 2016
Citrus Survey Shows Florida Growers Are …
Growers are betting unique crop protection tools will bridge the gap to bigger HLB solutions. Read More
Citrus
December 1, 2016
Bio Huma Netics App Now Released For And…
App includes foliar application calculators and ability to save application data. Read More
Citrus
December 1, 2016
Telling The Story Of Florida Citrus More…
HLB forces an emphasis on grassroots efforts to paint a positive picture. Read More
Citrus
November 29, 2016
Saving California Citrus Means Thinking …
Saving the California citrus industry from the incurable disease Huanglongbing will take a creative multi-pronged effort. Read More
Citrus
November 29, 2016
Review Shows Low Risk To Aquatic Inverte…
Peer-reviewed evaluation of more than 100 studies finds uses of imidacloprid are unlikely to harm aquatic invertebrate communities, or the birds and fish that rely on them. Read More
Citrus
November 23, 2016
Strength Of Sugar Fuels South Florida Ec…
The Sunshine State's sugar industry employs more than 14,000 people and has an annual income of more than $800 million with a total direct and indirect economic impact of greater than $3 billion. Read More
Citrus
November 22, 2016
Arysta Partners With Beem Biologics To L…
Agreement to expand Arysta’s portfolio with new biocontrol releases. Read More
Citrus
November 21, 2016
Bacterial Imbalances Can Be Troublesome …
A recent study reports that bees given fresh pollen or fresh supplements fared better than bees given pollen or supplements that had first been aged for 21 days. Read More
Citrus
November 21, 2016
7 Sweet Releases In Florida Sugarcane
New cultivars focus on disease resistance and yield. Read More
Citrus
November 21, 2016
EPA Extends Comment Period For Malathion
Growers have the opportunity to comment on a draft of human health risk assessment. Read More
Citrus
November 21, 2016
Insight Welcome On Florida Agriculture&#…
Poorly thought-out government policies loom as a major threat that prevents Florida farmers and ranchers from feeding a hungry world. Read More
Citrus
November 20, 2016
Partnership Highlights Key Role Bees Pla…
Campaign focuses on role honeybees and beekeepers have pollinating the foods Americans eat. Read More
Citrus
November 19, 2016
USDA Gives $200 Million To Expand Ag Exp…
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) is awarding $200 million to more than 70 Read More