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
citrus psyllid closeup
Insect & Disease Update
February 18, 2017
The War on Citrus Psyllids Still Raging
Despite control challenges, keeping the pest in check remains the best approach to managing HLB. Read More
IMPAC.org screenshot
Citrus
February 17, 2017
How Precision Agriculture Is Helping Farmers Win Over Consumers
New Florida-based organization is seeking to break down barriers between farmers and shoppers by providing a platform to not only show what is grown, but how it's grown. Read More
Brussels Sprout on a fork
Citrus
February 16, 2017
Food Trends Driving Growth Opportunities for Florida Farmers
More niche markets emerging for growers to give consumers what they want and need. Read More
John Merritt
Citrus
February 15, 2017
Florida Citrus Community Loses Longtime Leader to Leukemia
John Merritt, known as an innovative grower and staunch industry advocate, was 60. Read More
Grower Jonathan Brown of Bethel Farms inspects his citrus grove.
Citrus
February 9, 2017
Florida Citrus Forecast Comes Full Circle With Latest Update
Amid up-and-down pattern, USDA puts all-orange production numbers back on target with initial estimate. Read More
Load of pot poorly camouflaged as Key limes
Citrus
February 8, 2017
Nearly Two Tons of Pot Plucked From Load of Key Limes
Shaped to resemble the tangy citrus fruit, law enforcement officials extract 34,764 packages allegedly filled with an ingredient not intended for pies. Read More
Citrus
February 5, 2017
New Product Helps Bees Brush Off Mites
A British company developed Bee Gym, distributed by Vita Ltd. Read More
The Latest
Citrus
February 22, 2017
New Insecticide Available to Combat Suck…
Minecto Pro from Syngenta has received EPA approval for use in specialty and vegetable crops to control lepidopteran and other pests. Read More
Citrus
February 22, 2017
Skilled Labor Needed to Keep Agriculture…
Even with the challenge of feeding a growing global population at hand, has focus been lost on recruiting where jobs on the farm are need most? Read More
Citrus
February 17, 2017
How Precision Agriculture Is Helping Far…
New Florida-based organization is seeking to break down barriers between farmers and shoppers by providing a platform to not only show what is grown, but how it's grown. Read More
Citrus
February 16, 2017
Food Trends Driving Growth Opportunities…
More niche markets emerging for growers to give consumers what they want and need. Read More
Citrus
February 15, 2017
Florida Citrus Community Loses Longtime …
John Merritt, known as an innovative grower and staunch industry advocate, was 60. Read More
Citrus
February 9, 2017
Florida Citrus Forecast Comes Full Circl…
Amid up-and-down pattern, USDA puts all-orange production numbers back on target with initial estimate. Read More
Citrus
February 8, 2017
Nearly Two Tons of Pot Plucked From Load…
Shaped to resemble the tangy citrus fruit, law enforcement officials extract 34,764 packages allegedly filled with an ingredient not intended for pies. Read More
Citrus
February 5, 2017
New Product Helps Bees Brush Off Mites
A British company developed Bee Gym, distributed by Vita Ltd. Read More
Citrus
February 3, 2017
Wonderful Citrus Stakes a Major Claim in…
Acquisition of the largest citrus marketer in Florida makes California company the crop’s top grower, shipper, and packer in the U.S. Read More
Citrus
February 2, 2017
Florida Seeking to Fete More Eco-Innovat…
Nominations open for the Commissioner’s Agricultural-Environmental Award. Read More
Citrus
February 2, 2017
University of Florida Celebrating a Cent…
Cheers all around for UF/IFAS' CREC, the largest facility in the world devoted to a single commodity. Read More
Citrus
January 30, 2017
List of Best College Farms Released
Website evaluated farms on sustainability factors, community programming, and courses available at the university or college farm, not just in the classroom. Read More
Citrus
January 30, 2017
Game Far From Over for Florida Citrus
Attendees of the 2017 Florida Citrus Show convene to commiserate over current challenges, vet future wins via new varieties. Read More
Citrus
January 25, 2017
Ban Lifted on USDA News Releases
Acting USDA deputy administrator says the practice is typical with new administration changes. Read More
Citrus
January 25, 2017
USDA-ARS to Halt Publishing News Release…
News media confirm report. Read More
Citrus
January 24, 2017
Trump Withdraws U.S. From Trans-Pacific …
Fresh produce export market to hit a wall with signing of executive order. Read More
Citrus
January 20, 2017
Farming Will Always Have a Place in Flor…
Growers are resilient and agriculture will survive in our state and elsewhere. It has to, if we want food on our plates. Read More
Citrus
January 19, 2017
Trump Taps Sonny Perdue for Secretary of…
Ag leaders applaud pick to head up USDA. Read More