February 17, 2006
AFBF: Agriculture needs
Failure to include comprehensive guest-worker provisions in any new or reformed immigration law could cause up to $9 billion annually in overall losses to the U.S. agriculture industry and losses of up to $5 billion annually in net farm income, according to a detailed study released by the American Farm Bureau Federation.
If Congress ultimately approves a new immigration law that does not account for agriculture's needs for guest workers, like the bill approved by the House last year, then the consequences for American agriculture will be dire, according to the study.
The fruit and vegetable sector as it now exists would disappear, the study says. Up to one-third of producerswho are especially dependent on hired laborwould no longer be able to compete. Instead of stocking produce grown and harvested in the U.S., America's grocers would increasingly fill their shelves with foreign-grown produce, resulting in billions of dollars currently kept in the U.S. being sent overseas.
"The agriculture industry is unique in that we are highly dependent on temporary foreign workers to fill jobs that most Americans do not want to perform," said AFBF President Bob Stallman. "Many family farms depend on temporary labor and could not sustain the impact of net farm income losses brought about by current immigration proposals."
U.S. agriculture's demand for labor has stabilized at approximately 3 million workers. About 2 million workers are drawn from farm families, and about 1 million are hired. Although no one knows the precise figure, estimates say that half or more of agriculture's hired labor force of 1 million is not authorized to work in the U.S., according to the study.
The average wage paid to a farm worker is $9.50 an hour, with benefits packages pushing the average closer to $11 to $12 an hour. But agriculture competes with other industries for workers with similar skill requirements. By comparison, the minimum wage was $5.15 an hour in 2005. Food preparation workers were paid an average of $6.65 an hour, janitorial workers were paid about $11 an hour and construction laborers received about $14.34 an hour.
Immigration reform is expected to be one of the issues Congress focuses on in the weeks ahead. President Bush repeated his support of immigration reform in his State of the Union address and in other recent appearances.
"AFBF will not stand by while a significant segment of our industry is outsourced to foreign countries," said Stallman. "We will work vigorously for a sensible, balanced immigration bill that secures our borders, toughens sanctions on those who willingly violate the law, and provides American agriculture with a viable guest worker program that maintains a vibrant sector of the American economy."
AFBF released excerpts of this study at its annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn., last month.