Fall 2018

Northwest Farm Credit: Rural, Real Estate, Operating Loans; Farm Loans; Country Home Loans; Lot Loans; Equipment Financing; Young and Beginning Producers; Crop Insurance; Business Management Education; Property Appraisals

Issue link: http://digital.nexsitepublishing.com/i/1052966

Contents of this Issue


Page 15 of 19

guest editorial I was 10 when I took my first paying job on a farm. We had moved to a small town in Oregon, where a neighbor farmed a commercial-scale blueberry field. Come harvest, he hired my brothers and me to help pick berries. Over the next few years, the neighbor hired us and other school kids for harvest and other field work. By age 18, I left for better pay and easier work, as did many of my student co-workers. The Future of Ag Labor: Are we going to import workers or import our food? Glen Hiemstra • Futurist 15 Northwest Farm Credit Services Finding labor for farm work is a perennial challenge today, just as it was then. Back in the day, it was addressed with the 1942 Bracero program, which brought Mexican workers to U.S. farms during the war, then continued to enable the importation of Mexican workers for farms and railroads. The program was terminated Dec. 1, 1964, amid charges of corruption, wage theft, poor working conditions and the feeling that the imported workers were taking jobs that Americans should and would do if the jobs were made available. Sound familiar? In early 1965, Secretary of Agriculture Willard Wirtz imple- mented a program to recruit 20,000 high schoolers to replace the hundreds of thousands of Mexican agricultural workers. He focused on the jocks. To great fanfare the Secretary announced the "A-TEAM" program – Athletes in Temporary Employment as Agricultural Manpower. Local newspapers touted their student A-TEAMs as they left for the fields. The kids would earn minimum wage of $1.40 an hour and live in barracks or former migrant housing and be supervised by adults as they worked six days a week. Soon the results came in. Reams of A-TEAM members quit within two weeks. Others staged strikes. In the end the A-TEAM was considered a failure and never tried again. Still, the dream of replacing immigrant and temporary farm workers with Americans never seems to die. In 2011, Alabama and Georgia ran an experiment that severely limited immigrant farm workers, counting on local residents to take the farm jobs. The result? Crops rotted in the fields. Georgia alone put its losses at $140 million due to a shortage of 5,000 workers. We've seen similar dynamics in 2018 amid the well-covered crackdown on undocumented and previously documented farm workers across the nation. In Delaware, crab harvesters lost much of their business as crab pickers who normally came each summer from Mexico were not allowed under limited H2-B visas. In California, produce and fruit farmers struggled to fill jobs, with about four jobs available for each eligible worker. In the Northwest, fruit and hop growers and others were more fortunate, finding sufficient local and migrant workers. Larger farms relied more on H2-A visa workers, providing housing and paying prevailing wages, while smaller operators found freed-up local and West Coast itinerants to fill their needs. (The number of H2-A visa workers in Washington state has grown from 3,000 in 2009 to 22,000 in 2018.) While some operations can be, and have been, fully mecha- nized so that little human labor is needed, many kinds of farming resist easy automation. University of California, Berkeley economist Gordon Rausser said, "…robot talk is mostly silly. Much of American agriculture was mechanized long before robots invaded. In recent years, processing plants and packing houses have automated significantly. But most fruits and vegetables in the field remain stubbornly dependent on human hands." Around the country, the consensus in 2018 is this – better national management of farm labor is essential to the future. Recent legislative efforts to address the problem of insufficient farm labor visas have languished in committees in Washington, D.C., caught in the unending battle over immigration policy.

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