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March 2006

As American as Apple Pie (Produced Abroad)


Bob Stallman
President
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

Spring is just around the corner, which means one thing to a farmer. It’s time to revisit our fields and orchards in preparation for the growing season ahead. For fruit and vegetable growers, however, spring thoughts of planting and nurturing may be displaced by concerns about who will help harvest this year’s bounty.

Of all major sectors of the U.S. economy, agriculture is the most dependent on a migrant labor force. And if our lawmakers don’t act quickly, billions of dollars worth of agricultural production could soon slip through our fingers and across our borders.

Sending $Billions across the Border

U.S. agriculture hires about 1 million workers each year for jobs that most Americans are unwilling to do. Let’s face it, farming is hard work. Couple that with the fact that agricultural jobs are often seasonal and require migrating from farm to farm, and the reality is that even with competitive pay and benefits, most native-born Americans are not attracted to farm work. Coming from Texas, I understand first-hand the importance of migrant labor.

Agriculture would face dire consequences if we were to lose our guest labor workforce. If an immigration reform bill that fails to address agriculture’s need for guest labor, like the one that just passed the House, becomes law, up to one-third of the U.S. fruits and vegetables sector would disappear. According to a recent American Farm Bureau economic study, between $5 billion and $9 billion in annual U.S. production would be lost to foreign competitors. Net farm income for the rest of agriculture also would decline by as much as $5 billion annually.

In short, America would be sending its fruit and vegetable sector across the border. Let me put it like this: would you prefer to eat food produced on American soil by migrant workers, or would you rather eat food produced on foreign soil by the same workers? It’s that simple.

Guest Worker Program is Non-Negotiable

Many opponents to migrant labor say we should close our border for security reasons. But let me argue that America will not be safer if the result of closing our borders is to send U.S. production of our fruits and vegetables abroad.

We must have an adequate guest worker program that legally allows migrant workers to enter the U.S. and do the jobs Americans won’t. This is non-negotiable for the American Farm Bureau Federation. As I said, coming from Texas, I have been around foreign workers all my life. They are decent, law-abiding people who work hard and contribute greatly to our industry and way of life.

The successful production and marketing of fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops hinges greatly on quality and worker productivity.  Further, making sure American consumers have a safe and abundant domestic supply of fruits, vegetables and other foods is essential to our national interest. Think about that the next time you take a bite out of a California-grown strawberry or a pie made from apples produced in Washington State, because nothing else in the world comes close.