Virginia apple grower and former U.S. Apple Association (USApple) chairman Phil Glaize on Friday urged Congress to take immediate action on immigration reform in order to protect the future of American agriculture. Glaize emphasized the importance of having a reliable, stable, and legal workforce to ensure that American crops are harvested and not abandoned in the field. Using the complex nature of apple picking as an example, he also stressed that without skilled workers, agricultural communities would suffer economic harm.
“The challenge we face is fundamentally about our food security as a nation,” Glaize said. “U.S. producers are steadily losing market share to imports of virtually all fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S., including fresh produce, but especially frozen and canned production and juices. Without a stable labor force, we will soon see a day where we rely on foreign countries to feed us, much as we do for oil.”
The hearing, entitled “Protecting America’s Harvest,” also included United Farm Workers president Arturo S. Rodriguez and Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert of “The Colbert Report.” In July, Rodriguez appeared on a segment of “The Colbert Report,” and a few weeks later, Colbert spent a day laboring at a farm in upstate New York as part of the UFW’s national “Take Our Jobs” campaign. The campaign invited U.S. citizens and legal residents to replace hundreds of thousands of immigrant field laborers. Since the campaign launched in late June, more than three million people have visited the website, www.takeourjobs.com. Of those visitors, 8,600 have expressed interest in seeking employment as farmworkers, but only 14 have actually taken and kept the jobs.
Colbert, who used comedy in his testimony, suggested that Americans find plants that “pick themselves” and that we raise the soil levels so workers won’t need to bend over. While some disapproved of his mockery, Colbert, in the end, did say we should make it easier for immigrants to get work visas, because they likely will end up doing the jobs anyway.