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The long run... US agriculture and immigration

by Metatone Thu Dec 5th, 2013 at 10:44:38 AM EST

A few hopeful signs that this period we live in, where a large pool of labour has entered the world economy and as a by-product put "capital" in an incredibly strong position can come to an end:

Farmers Face Labor Shortages As Workers Find Other Jobs

FRESNO, Calif. -- With the harvest in full swing on the West Coast, farmers in California and other states say they can't find enough people to pick high value crops such as grapes, peppers, apples and pears.

In some cases, workers have walked off fields in the middle of harvest, lured by offers of better pay or easier work elsewhere.

The shortage and competition for workers means labor expenses have climbed, harvests are getting delayed and less fruit and vegetable products are being picked, prompting some growers to say their income is suffering. Experts say, however, the shortage is not expected to affect prices for consumers.

But farmworkers, whose incomes are some of the lowest in the nation, have benefited, their wages jumping in California to $2 to $3 over the $8 hourly minimum wage and even more for those working piece rate.

The shortage - driven by a struggling U.S. economy, more jobs in Mexico, and bigger hurdles to illegal border crossings - has led some farmers to offer unusual incentives: they're buying meals for their workers, paying for transportation to and from fields, even giving bonuses to those who stay for the whole season.

front-paged by afew


And further into the piece (my emphasis):

For years, farmers throughout the U.S. had access to an abundant, cheap, mostly unauthorized labor force streaming in from Mexico. Workers say they often had to beg growers for even a few hours of work and their wages were low.

As the U.S. plunged into a recession and Mexico's economy improved, some seasonal migrant workers chose to remain home.

Increased border security and drug cartel violence made crossings more dangerous and expensive, deterring workers. A sharp drop in Mexico's fertility rate further decreased the number of young men crossing into the U.S. to work in the fields.

The trend appears long-lasting, spelling trouble for farmers, according to a new report by the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center. While the recession is over, the report finds, mass migration from Mexico has not resumed.

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European Tribune - Comments - The long run... US agriculture and immigration
Experts say, however, the shortage is not expected to affect prices for consumers.

...much, as they were going to keep climbing anyway due to climate change, eco-burnout and the price of fossil fuels.

experts will say(TM) water runs uphill if they're shilly enough.

this will provide a day of reckoning for american big ag, as mexicans can work much harder than most people, for less money.

and when lower prices for chem-ag go away, organic gardening's superior efficiency will be finally validated, as the real costs are revealed of both systems.

not to mention we'll get the bees and butterflies back, quit ruining the water table and creating ocean runoff.

no-lose, we eat and waste far too much anyway all through the 'foist' world. if the myth of 'cheap' food is exploded it will save a lot of health care down the road.

glad to see the workers getting a bit more courted by employers, too!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Dec 2nd, 2013 at 08:26:09 AM EST
While the recession is over...

Well, at least there is that....or not.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Dec 2nd, 2013 at 10:06:47 AM EST
As Melo said, we need a system to smaller-scale organic or mostly-organic agriculture.  There may well be a legit use for the targeted use of chemical fertilizers, but right now they're dumped in massive quantities in the quickest and most indiscriminate way possible so as to minimize on manual and intellectual labor.  We need land and soil and crops and animals managed together in an integrated system.

But that's hard, and right now the name of the game is minimizing human input, human input of every type. It doesn't have to be this way.  There's enough profit floating around in the food system to pay for a large and populous class of independent farmers who employ well-paid agricultural laborers.  There many not be enough people interested in doing this kind of work, but that's perhaps an area where a government service program could come in - draft young people to do well-paid work in the countryside for a year or two.

Furthermore, with rural depopulation a real problem in some parts of the world, boosting long-term employment in the agricultural sector seems like a legitimate form of employment stimulus, development aid, and industrial policy - in addition to its ecological and long-term health implications.

by Zwackus on Tue Dec 3rd, 2013 at 05:46:57 AM EST
we have to get ag clean again, so people don't need hazmat suits to go out in the fields.
then by all means an ag equivalent of the peace corps, definitely.

many city dwellers would never otherwise discover the joys of living closer to the land, alas.

there isn't an unemployment problem so much as a quality food problem!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Dec 3rd, 2013 at 06:49:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
there isn't an unemployment problem so much as a quality food problem!

In the USA there are both problems and solving one can help solve the other. The State of California could profitably address both for its unemployed youth and labor starved farmers by providing infrastructure and incentives for urban unemployed youth to obtain seasonal work in agricultural areas. State loans could be made available to provide dormitories and cafeterias, fixed or relocatable, along with specific transportation systems and educational and cultural opportunities for those so employed. It looks like the agricultural sector is about to find out just how much the timely availability of labor is really worth. But legal and tax changes are also needed to re-balance the power relationships between corporate agriculture and small holder farmers.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Dec 3rd, 2013 at 11:43:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But... shareholder profits.
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Dec 3rd, 2013 at 12:07:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sadly are not always Jerry Brown's top priority.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Dec 3rd, 2013 at 12:30:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
well those are going to diminish as they run out of cheap, uncomplaining mexican labour, innit?

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Dec 3rd, 2013 at 02:39:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the world needs to think long and hard about whether secondary-market shareholders deserve to exist.
by Zwackus on Tue Dec 3rd, 2013 at 09:09:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There are a couple layers where profit needs a bit of redistributing.  To ensure that enough of the total agricultural profit stream stays within rural communities, you need to hit a couple of sectors.

1 - Monopolistic seed providers.  In the US, Monsanto has been working to create a monopoly in the sector, and thereby force their GMO hybrids on everyone while dramatically enhancing their ability to extract rent.

2 - Transportation - I have no idea what the situation is now, but in the past transport monopolies have been used to extract rent from farmers.

3 - Processing - Food processors that buy directly from farmers are not necessarily a problem, unless they're big enough to set the terms of the market, and thus become a locus for rent extraction.  In the US, Quaker has a big enough lock on the oats market to be able to set processing standards.

4 - Retail - Particularly for fresh produce, retail giants can choke off access to the big urban markets, and use this ability to extract rent.

At each step, there needs to be strong regulation to prevent any particular market player from becoming too dominant, and there needs to be politically active organization at the farmer level to leverage their democratic power (in votes) to keep these regulations effective.

by Zwackus on Tue Dec 3rd, 2013 at 09:07:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sadly, some these areas that need redistributing are instead about to get locked down by international treaty, courtesy of TPP. Rent extraction forever!

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Dec 4th, 2013 at 09:44:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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