More than Robotics is Needed to Solve Farm Labor Shortage

Even before President Trump got the opportunity to enact the aggressive immigration crackdown he promised in his campaign, farmers were talking about leaving crops in the fields to rot due to a lack of labor. It came up at a congressional hearing on food waste in May of 2016. In that hearing, John Oxford of the Produce Marketing Association said: “We can import labor, or we can import our fruits and vegetables.” An 2012 NRDC report estimates that 20% of produce grown in the US doesn’t leave the farm either because farmers can’t find enough labor, or because the cost of labor isn’t covered by the potential revenue of the crop.

It came up again before the House Agriculture committee again on July 12 when Wonderful Citrus vice president Paul Heller testified that the industry had lost about 140,000  foreign workers over the last five years, causing labor costs to rise as much as $8,400 per acre.

Record deportations in the Obama era along with anti-immigrant rhetoric from President Trump have “doubled” the labor shortage, said Western Growers Association President Tom Nassif told AgFunderNews. “Without immigration reform and a useful guest worker program in the US, we need to try and develop ways to rely more on our own ingenuity and tech solutions rather than on the government.”

He continued to say that what Washington DC presents as the answer to a lack of immigration reform is the H2A visa. “The H2A program has not worked; the process is lengthy and cumbersome, and the fact that it requires employers to provide housing is a great deterrent,” said Nassif.

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