agriculture

Notes on the Spring Meat Shortage

The Great Toilet Paper Scare of 2020 has come to end, but don't breathe a sigh of relief just yet. The Spring Meat Stampede is here. . .

The Other Dangerous Dependence Exposed by Coronavirus Crisis: Low Wage, Exploitable Foreign Farm Labor, Charges FAIR

A devastating March 28 Associated Press report reveals how little value powerful agricultural interests place on the lives and safety of either their guest workers or their illegal labor force. Moreover, the stunning silence of the massively funded network of so-called “immigrants’ rights” groups in the face of these revelations shows how little they actually care about the people they claim to advocate for. . .

Liberty Headlines: Supreme Court OKs Denial of Green Cards for Those Likely to Need Gov’t Aid

(Liberty Headlines) The Supreme Court on Monday allowed the Trump administration to put in place a policy connecting the use of public benefits with whether immigrants could become permanent residents

Apparently Washington is Never Too Divided to Capitulate to the Demands of Big Ag

At a time when lawmakers from our two political parties can barely stomach being under the same rotunda with each other, House members have managed to come together to approve a regressive labor and illegal alien amnesty bill, ironically labeled the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R. 5038). Owing to the chaos swirling around the nation’s capital, this massive giveaway to the powerful agricultural industry lobby is largely escaping notice from the American people.

Under H.R. 5038, an estimated 1.5 million illegal aliens would be eligible for amnesty, but not before having to serve a decade or more in indentured servitude to their employers before achieving full legal status. “Granting amnesty to illegal aliens is always a bad idea, and merely attracts more illegal immigration,” stated Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

“The only thing worse than another large-scale amnesty is one that then forces people to continue to toil for poor wages and under poor working conditions for the same unscrupulous employers who hired them illegally in the first place,” said Stein.

Far from modernizing our agricultural workforce, the legislation ensures that the American agricultural industry will remain mired in the 17th century. “The foundation of a modern agricultural industry must be increased reliance on technology and mechanization to ensure that we can feed our population and export our surplus. Instead of offering incentives or subsidies for farmers to invest in real modernization, this bill incentivizes a continued reliance on inefficient, low-wage immigrant labor,” Stein charged.

H.R. 5038 is, at best, a short-term fix for an industry that relies on easily exploitable labor. The bill, which would designate current illegal farmworkers as Certified Agricultural Workers (CAW), is almost an exact replicate of the failed 1986 Special Agricultural Worker (SAW) amnesty. Under that fraud-ridden amnesty program, some 1.1 million illegal aliens received legal status prompting them to leave that industry in pursuit of better wages and working conditions in other sectors of the economy, and leading Big Agriculture to hire the next wave of illegal aliens.

“Mark Twain quipped that ‘History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.’ Congress, in attempting to create a CAW amnesty after the massive failure of the SAW amnesty, seems intent on proving that history can repeat itself and rhyme at the same time,” Stein observed.

“While Congress continues to do nothing to secure our borders, passing a bill that rewards both illegal aliens and their employers, and calling it ‘modernization,’ is a slap in the face to the plurality of Americans who consider immigration to be the nation’s most pressing domestic issue,” concluded Stein.

Contact: Matthew Tragesser, 202-328-7004 or mtragesser@fairus.org

H.R. 5038 won in the House but the battle is not over

Alert date: 
December 13, 2019
Alert body: 

The vote in the House of Representatives on Dec. 12 on H.B. 5038, Farm Workforce Modernization Act, was:  Ayes, 260; Nays, 160.   As you might expect all of Oregon’s House members voted in favor of rewarding law breakers.  Let’s hope President Trump will veto the bill if it makes it to his desk.

“Farm Workforce Modernization Act” would do George Orwell proud.  To return to stoop labor workers instead of mechanization is the anthesis of “modernization.”   To reward law breakers at the expense of farmers who obey laws is a slap in the face to the farmers who obey labor laws.

As Roy Beck of NumbersUSA reported: “226 Democrats took the side of law-breaking agri-business employers and their illegal workers against the legal workers in the ag industry.  Joining them in supporting the amnesty for employers who have massively broken immigration laws for years were 34 Republicans voting YES. …”

All 5 of Oregon’s Representatives voted to pass this betrayal of U.S. workers, increasing profits for employers by depressing workers’ wages and taking job opportunities away from citizens.  Standing up for U.S. citizen workers were 151 Republicans, 3 Democrats and one Independent.  You can see the record of the vote, showing how each member voted, here.

Hopefully the bill can be stopped in the Senate.  H.R. 5038 authorizes a major amnesty that will have far-reaching, harmful results for our country, now and in the future.  This article gives a vivid picture: 

FARMING LIKE IT’S 1699; It’s cheaper to invest in congressmen than in automation, by Mark Krikorian, in The National Review Dec. 10, 2019.    [Mr. Krikorian is a nationally recognized expert on immigration issues.  He has served as Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) since 1995.]

Excerpt:

The House is expected to vote Wednesday on the hilariously misnamed Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which would “modernize” agricultural labor right back to the 17th century.

At the core of the bill are several indentured-labor schemes intended to tie current illegal aliens and future “temporary” workers to farm jobs for four to ten years before giving them green cards. The reason for the indenture system is that farmers know from experience that once the illegal aliens or visa workers get green cards, almost all will flee the medieval labor system that prevails in much of fresh fruit and vegetable agriculture.

Fact sheets on the bill are here and here. It provides immediate amnesty to illegal aliens (and their dependents) who have (or claim to have) worked at least part time in agriculture over the past two years. The number of beneficiaries is estimated to be at least 1.5 million. . . .

See the complete article here.

HR 5038, indentured labor dressed up as “modernization”

A huge amnesty for farm workers is pending in Congress now.  It’s already passed in the House.

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The Rotten Fruits of America’s ‘Farm Workforce Modernization Act’/, by Bob Dane, Federation for American immigration Reform,  Nov. 25, 2019

Conventional wisdom holds that bipartisan legislation is the best form of law. The “Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019” is a notable exception.

With 49 Republican and Democrat co-sponsors, HR 5038 sailed through the House Judiciary Committee last week. Because the bill was allowed to advance on a voice vote, there’s no official record of who voted which way.

Lawmakers had good reason to duck for cover while cheap-labor lobbyists and immigration enthusiasts exulted. Expanding the H-2A foreign guestworker program, HR 5038 would grant amnesty and a path to citizenship to more than 1 million illegal farm laborers. And contrary to its title, the bill doesn’t do a thing to “modernize” agriculture in this country. …

In essence, the bill tells illegal farm laborers: Work in unchanging conditions with no wage growth for around a decade and maybe you’ll get a green card. …

While illegal aliens account for 47 percent of U.S. farm workers, agriculture employs less than 1 percent of America’s labor force. Clearly, no one is going to starve if the industry’s illegal-alien spigot is turned off and immigration laws are enforced. We doubt anyone would even notice a difference on their grocery bill.

This counterproductive amnesty scheme has nothing to do with “farm workforce modernization” (in fact, it produces the opposite), and America doesn’t need HR 5038. It’s time Congress raised a bipartisan majority to reverse course and stop this cheap-labor combine.

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HR 5038, The Farm Workforce Modernization Act   [analysis and statement of opposition by the Federation for American immigration Reform]

 https://www.fairus.org/legislation/federal-legislation/hr-5038-farm-workforce-modernization-act

Contents. -  Farmworker Amnesty - Minor Changes to H-2A - Expansion of EB-3 Green Cards - E-Verify Only for Agriculture. - FAIR's Position on the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R. 5038)

The answer to ag labor shortages

Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies makes a persuasive pitch for mechanization in agriculture, ending dependence on humans to do stoop labor and other exhausting manual chores on farms.

In his blog of April 26, “A Robot in Every Field, he says:

“… An individual farmer is understandably concerned with the next crop, but policymakers should have a longer time horizon. Americans get wealthier when productivity grows, and in agriculture that means, among other things, the development and adoption of labor-saving technologies.  …

“Foreign-worker programs that import stoop labor represent an intervention by government specifically designed to prevent the inevitable rise in farm-labor costs in modern societies caused by urbanization and increased employment opportunities elsewhere.

“Increasing wages and benefits will undoubtedly help draw some people into (or back into) the farm-labor force, but it's true that few Americans are going to cut broccoli all day in the hot sun. Even Mexicans aren't going into farm work anymore; as two scholars write, 'Mexico is following the pattern of countries around the world: as its income rises, workers shift out of farm work into other sectors.'

“The solution isn't to give in to the lobbyists and scour ever-more remote corners of the world for people still willing to submit to a medieval-work regime. Instead, we need to allow Julian Simon's scarcity/innovation dance to proceed, so that robots continue to replace humans in the fields. In fact, if the White House feels the need to service the ag lobby, why not propose mechanization-loan guarantees to help small farmers wean themselves off stoop labor? Rather than promise a chicken in every pot, why not a robot in every field?”

Read the complete blog here.

Later, Neil Munro, of Breitbart.com, gathered comments on Krikorian’s proposal, and, in his article of April 28, also describes the current progress of mechanization in agriculture.  His article can be viewed here.

Washington Post: Farm Industry Is Being Forced to Replace Illegal Workforce

Excerpts:

The paper [Washington Post] reported February 21:

... With the election of Trump, employers said they knew that finding undocumented workers would probably become even more difficult. One Washington state farmer said he watched as his entire pool of undocumented workers crossed the border into Canada after Trump’s inauguration, fearing deportation. Another farmer, failing to find domestic workers in 2017, formed a partnership with a local prison, hiring detainees to work the fields as part of a voluntary work program.

Farm companies are importing more temporary visa workers via the H-2A program. In 2016, farm companies hired 165,000 temporary workers via the H2A program. In 2018, the number rose to 242,000 H-2A workers, who are expected to return home after 10 months of work.

Apple farms in Oregon are also looking to machines to curb their reliance on migrants to pick the most profitable fruit:  [photo]

The two articles in the Washington Post are notable because they recognize the impact of cheap-labor migration on U.S. technology and economics.

Most articles by establishment media outlets focus on the demands of U.S. employers and of foreign migrants and ignore the deeply damaging impact illegal and legal migration on Americans’ wages, salaries, productivity, and technological development.

For example, many major U.S. companies ally with foreign outsourcing firms to keep at least 1.5 million foreign college-graduates — including at least 650,000 H-1B workers — in the jobs sought by U.S. college graduates. That business strategy is made possible by government labor policy, and it spikes Wall Street values, shrinks salaries, and steers middle-class Americans away from technology jobs.

Overall, the U.S. agriculture industry is heavily mechanized and automated. High-tech machinery allows farmers and a few workers to plant, help, and harvest vast acreages of row crops, such as wheat, corn, potatoes, carrots, and soybeans. The huge harvests feed Americans and many people abroad.

The U.S. dairy industry is partly automated but lags behind European dairy farms who have shrunk their labor costs by buying cow-milking robots. Dairy farmers are lobbying to be allowed into the H-2A program and complain that government-set milk prices are too low for them to afford the cow-milking robots.

But there is little automation in the business of picking fruit, such as peaches, apples, and strawberries. Cheap illegal labor has allowed farm companies to ignore technology, but that strategy has run into a ditch.

Farms in Mexico and South America are using their expert managers, extra sunshine, and cheaper labor to deliver more food to their countries and to export more food to the U.S., so cutting into U.S. farmers’ share of the U.S. market.

That international competition is also forcing American farms to consider automating their harvests.

The asparagus industry shows the connection between labor costs and automation.

In California and Idaho, asparagus is picked by migrants carrying a long tool. In Michigan, where there are fewer migrants, farms use buggies to help a team of several migrants pick the crop faster. In Europe, where migrants are expensive, companies are trying to use bigger machines that can pick the asparagus crop with few workers.

As California’s labor shortage grows, farmers race to replace workers with robots

Driscoll’s is so secretive about its robotic strawberry picker it won’t let photographers within telephoto range of it.

But if you do get a peek, you won’t see anything humanoid or space-aged. AgroBot is still more John Deere than C-3PO...

Now, the $47-billion agriculture industry is trying to bring technological innovation up to warp speed before it runs out of low-wage immigrant workers.

California will have to remake its fields like it did its factories, with more machines and better-educated workers to labor beside them, or risk losing entire crops, economists say.

“California agriculture just isn’t going to look the same,” said Ed Taylor, a UC Davis rural economist....

Driscoll’s, which grows berries in nearly two dozen countries and is the world’s top berry grower, already is moving its berries to table-top troughs, where they are easier for both human and machines to pick, as it has done over the last decade in Australia and Europe.

“We don’t see — no matter what happens — that the labor problem will be solved,” said Soren Bjorn, president of Driscoll’s of the Americas.

That’s because immigrant farmworkers in California’s agricultural heartlands are getting older and not being replaced. After decades of crackdowns, the net flow across the U.S.-Mexico border reversed in 2005, a trend that accelerated through 2014, according to a Pew Research Center study. And native-born Americans aren’t interested in the job, even at wages that have soared at higher than average rates.

“We’ve been masking this problem all these years with a system that basically allowed you to accept fraudulent documents as legal, and that’s what has been keeping this workforce going,” said Steve Scaroni, whose Fresh Harvest company is among the biggest recruiters of farm labor. “And now we find out we don’t have much of a labor force up here, at least a legal one.

Stated bluntly, there aren’t enough new immigrants for the state’s nearly half-million farm labor jobs — especially as Mexico creates competing manufacturing jobs in its own cities, Taylor said....

Not surprisingly, wages for crop production have climbed 13% from 2010 to 2015 — a higher rate than the state average, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of Labor Department data.

Growers who can afford it have begun offering savings and health plans more commonly found in white collar jobs. And they’re increasingly turning to foreign guest workers, recruiting 11,000 last year, which is a fivefold jump in just five years, The Times found.

None of that will solve the problem, economists say. Changing what we grow and how we grow it is all that’s left.

Response has been uneven, at best. Vast areas of the Central Valley have switched from labor intensive crops such as grapes or vegetables to almonds, which are mechanically shaken from the tree. The high-value wine grape industry has re-engineered the bulk of its vineyards to allow machines to span the vines like a monorail and strip them of grape clusters or leaves.

Fresno’s raisin industry, however, has a tougher problem to solve on a tighter profit margin. To fully mechanize, it may have to change not just its vineyard design, but the grape variety itself, much like the tomato industry developed a tough skinned Roma to withstand mechanical harvesters.

When labor shortages and price shocks hit in the early 2000s, growers altered vineyards so that machines could shake partially withered Thompson seedless grapes onto paper trays, a method that can slash more than 80% of labor costs, according to U.C. Davis researchers....

It may be too late to mechanize asparagus. The crop, among the most labor-intensive in the state, has gradually shifted to Mexico since trade barriers made it cheaper to grow there, casting a nostalgic pall over Stockton’s asparagus festival.

Last year, farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta area harvested only 8,000 acres of the signature spear, which is depicted on water tanks and town emblems throughout the region. In 2000, they harvested 37,000 acres, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“We’re headed toward zero pretty soon,” said Cherie Watte Angulo, executive director of the California Asparagus Commission....

Even Driscoll’s AgroBot, among the more advanced prototypes in California fields, was picking only a bit more than half the ripe berries in its trials this spring in Camarillo.

“We think we are very close, but every day we try to make the next step. We see new things we need to solve,” said Juan Bravo, the Spanish inventor who is counting on Driscoll’s continued backing for his 10-year endeavor...

The rest of the fruit industry has its eye on AgroBot’s trials, even as it looks to other start-ups such as Abundant Robotics, which hopes to duplicate the dexterity, judgment and perception of human apple pickers. Soft Robotics, based in Cambridge, Mass., boasts that its graspers can pick up a cupcake without damaging the icing.

Frank Maconachy is skeptical of solutions imported from tech centers. His company, Ramsay Highlander, started as a greasy machine shop in the Salinas Valley and slowly migrated toward Silicon Valley instead.

The company, with $15 million in annual sales, builds a fleet of computerized and sensor-driven machines for the lettuce and produce industry — and he is working with AgroBot’s U.S. competitor for strawberry picking, Harvest Croo, based in Plant City, Fla.

An early generation of robotic machine uses a band saw to mow whole rows of baby lettuce and other greens. But when produce giant Taylor Farms tried it on romaine heads, a slight height variation in the beds put the saw right across the heart of the heads, leaving nothing but shredded leaves, Maconachy said.

Maconachy developed a cutter using high-speed water jets. It now cuts all the romaine heads cleanly, and can be adapted for cabbage and celery.

“That machine took the work of 30 people and brought it down to about 12 people,” Maconachy said.

Cutting iceberg heads, especially large ones, remains problematic — it is planted so densely and the heads are so heavy it is difficult to maneuver cutters and graspers into beds. Maconachy thinks he has that engineering problem solved, but can’t raise the capital to develop it.

Ironically, plant scientists may have to reverse their cross-breeding to the original “iceberg” head, nicknamed from the tons of ice it took to keep it cool for cross-country train trips.

The crisphead variety used to be more bulb-shaped, which would give cutters and graspers more room to work, Maconachy said.

Rick Antle, chief executive of Tanimura & Antle, is whittling away at the labor on the planting side. He showed off his own robotic bet, called Planttape. The machine — equally homely as AgroBot — raced down a lettuce field outside Salinas, laying down a long strand of seedlings strung together on a bio-degradable tape, like 9-volt batteries in a 50-caliber machine gun belt.

That was twice the speed of its 35-year-old predecessor, and it required less than a tenth of the labor. To prove his point, Antle ran the old machine, which required three times the workers, on a nearby celery field. “That was it, for 35 years,” Antle said.

Lettuce growers usually plant seed, which can be unreliable, every few inches, then thin the field to fit the maximum number of heads at the optimal spacing. That means scores of workers in the spring have to walk row after row, moving inch by inch to pull seedlings over with a hoe — one of the oldest tools of agriculture.

The computer-guided “See and Spray” machine, developed by Silicon Valley start-up Blue River Technology, can do the work of 20 of those laborers before noon. It is one of five robotic thinners deployed on thousands of acres of summer lettuce in the Salinas Valley.

Diego Alctantar, 25, operated the tractor pulling See and Spray across a recently planted lettuce field near Gilroy. A computer guided jets of fertilizer-infused water to desiccate seedlings according to a kill-or-skip pattern that left nine-inch gaps between heads.

Alcantar, who grew up in the Salinas Valley, thinned lettuce and cut spinach the old way before getting his tractor license a few years ago. “It’s hard labor,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for them.”

The machine is not perfect...

Immigration enforcement boost felt throughout Yakima Valley

In Granger, attorneys with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project can’t keep up with the number of deportation hearings.

In Yakima, inmates held on suspicion of violating immigration laws have nearly tripled since March.

And across the Yakima Valley, social service agencies report a drop in the number of immigrants seeking help, while crime victims in this country illegally are becoming more reluctant to file complaints.

These are all signs of President Donald Trump’s executive orders stepping up immigration enforcement, said attorney Lara Contreras, who directs the Immigrant Rights Project.

Contreras said her office of three immigration attorneys and two legal advocates can’t keep pace with a growing number of deportation proceedings in Seattle and Tacoma, where a huge backlog has fostered a five-year delay on final rulings.

“There are going to be many people representing themselves in front of an immigration judge,” Contreras said. “We don’t have enough staff to represent everyone facing deportation.”

On a recent morning, a half-dozen people came to the firm’s Granger office seeking advice.

Among them was Yolanda, who feared her 18-year-old son would be targeted for deportation if he applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

“There’s no category of an individual who is exempt from ICE enforcement.”

-Rose Riley, ICE Spokeswoman

A student at Heritage University, he works with his mother in the fields from 3 a.m. to about 3 p.m. before heading to classes at 4 p.m.

But her anxiety was calmed when she was told her son would not be exposed to deportation if he applied for DACA, the Obama administration’s policy that allows certain undocumented people who entered the country as minors to obtain a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation, and eligibility for a work permit.

She said she doesn’t want her son to end up like her, trapped in field work. He’s majoring in business administration with a minor in computer science.

“People are fearful. There are people afraid to gather information regarding their cases,” Contreras said. “People are afraid to go to the police department because they are afraid they’ll get turned over to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).”

Incarceration

Under a federal contract, the Yakima County jail typically houses 50 to 90 people suspected of being here illegally each month, with the exception of last October when about 150 Haitian refugees were housed here temporarily.

Most of them are brought to the jail from other communities throughout Central Washington, while a small number are identified by ICE after being arrested on local charges. The county receives about $84 a day for each inmate it holds for ICE.

But this year, the jail has seen a steady increase in ICE holds. In March, there were 141 inmates suspected of being here illegally in the jail — a 156 percent increase over the same month last year when 51 such inmates were housed. Numbers in April, May and June were double or nearly triple during the same time last year.

The bigger numbers are the result of Trump’s executive orders, which provide broader guidelines for seeking out undocumented immigrants, said Rose Riley, Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman in Seattle.

And the vetting process has become less selective than in previous years, when ICE officials typically focused on serious criminals, Riley said.

“There’s no category of an individual who is exempt from ICE enforcement,” she said. “If they came into the country illegally or unlawfully, they will be subject to ICE enforcement.”

Under the executive orders, ICE officers don’t hesitate to ask anyone associated with someone who they arrest about their status, she says.

“It’s not dependent on their criminality, but on whether they are here legally or not,” she said.

“There’s definitely an increase,” said Department of Corrections Director Ed Campbell. “We’re seeing folks moved through from other jurisdictions.”

Campbell attributes some of the increases to an overall rise in the jail population, which has shot up from a daily average of 750 to 800 inmates to more than 900.

A clogged court

Last year, 2,124 people — 729 of them charged with a crime other than being here illegally — were removed from the region, which includes Washington, Oregon and Alaska, according to data from the Department of Homeland Security.

This year, the region is on pace to surpass that. Within about a three-month period from Jan. 20 to April 29, a total of 1,070 people were deported, of whom 798 were charged with a crime.

But immigration courts in Seattle and Tacoma, where the region’s cases are heard, had more than 9,470 pending cases as of March 27.

Of those, 982 are in the Tacoma court, which hears cases of those incarcerated.

Nationwide, there are 598,943 pending cases, of which 24,431 involve people convicted of crimes other than being in the country illegally.

Many cases are being delayed for months with their final hearings pushed out five years, Contreras said.

Those delays have some willing to waive due process to avoid being detained during the proceedings, said Maru Mora with Latino Advocacy in Bellingham, which works with groups across the state on immigrant rights and advocacy.

“In some cases people are just saying ‘look, if you’re going to deport me, just go ahead and deport me,’ ” she said.

More than 90 percent of those detained in Tacoma do not have attorneys and many have limited or no access to legal libraries to prepare their cases, Mora said.

Many have been moved to a county jail in northern Oregon where a legal library isn’t offered nor any facility to work on cases, she said.

And those detained in Tacoma only get one hour a day in the legal library, Mora said.

“So when they come back to court they’re not prepared for their hearing,” she said.

“The huge backlog, it’s impossible to get a lawyer; it’s expensive, and you’re transferred to a county jail.”

Meanwhile, social service providers have seen dramatic dips in people seeking services.

In May, the YWCA reported huge declines in women seeking emergency shelter, with only 28 compared to the 140 woman and 158 children the agency helped the year before.

Catholic Charities of Yakima, which provides an array of social services including low-income farm worker housing, said it saw a similar dip in people seeking services early in the year, but now people are coming in again.

“When we see a dip, usually it’s attributed to ICE activity in the area,” said CEO Manual Villafan. “That keeps them from accessing services our organization provides.”

Contreras said victims of crimes are reluctant to come forward as witnesses or seek protection orders.

“They fear that an ICE officer is lurking by,” she said.

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