Need for Migrant Farm Workers On Operations

January 30, 2017 09:59 AM

Tensions are still high between Mexico and the U.S. as the battle over construction of a border wall begins, putting immigration and migrant labor back in the spotlight.

While Titan Farms in Ridge Spring, S.C., the second largest peach producer in the country, is in the off season, the focus is already on the next crop.

The key to expansion is labor, and Chalmers Carr III, Titan Farms’ president and CEO, flies around the country to educate about the shortage and need of migrant farm workers.

“My farm advertises for over 600 workers a year,” said Carr. “This year, we had seven U.S. workers apply for those jobs. We’re paying them wages of $10.59 an hour. It’s much above the federal minimum wage.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) hopes it can be involved in discussions with the new administration to find a solution that won’t hurt foreign born farm labor.

“Farm Bureau supports border security,” said Krisi Boswell, director of congressional relationships with AFBF. “It’s an important piece of any responsible immigration reform package, but we need to make sure those enforcement proposals are done in a manner that doesn’t negatively impact the agricultural labor force.”

Agricultural workers can be documented through the H2A program, a temporary work visa designed for seasonal agricultural workers. Some producers say they are frustrated with the program.

“It’s very cumbersome, time consuming, expensive and you’re not guaranteed you’re going to get your labor in time,” said Mike DeGrandChamp, a Michigan blueberry grower. “It just hasn’t worked out. Some growers are probably forced to use it, but they’ve had issues with it.”

There’s been a renewed effort to change the oversight of the H2A program. The Family Farm Relief Act of 2017, introduced earlier this month, could move the H2A program from the Department of Labor to the Department of Agriculture. It would also streamline the process.

AFBF has been pushing for moving the H2A to be under the USDA’s control for some time.

“Our policy calls for a new, flexible visa program that’s administered by USDA, rather than the Department of Labor, that has a three year visa that works not only for our seasonal workers but our year-round needs,” said Boswell.

Congress attempted to change H2As to a multi-year program in 2013, but the move failed in Congress.

“We need a true reform to where it can be adopted to all of our agriculture,” said Carr. “That’s to our dairy industry and other industries. Don’t penalize people for being year-round operators.”

Boswell says more than half of the U.S. agricultural work force is in the U.S. illegally. Yet, getting rid of all workers would be devastating to the industry.

“Production would fall $30 to $60 billion in that type of approach,” said Boswell. “Food prices would rise 5 to 6 percent. If done incorrectly, [a full deportation of illegal immigrants] could be devastating.”

Carr says if full deportation were to occur, overall, it would decimate agriculture. He says it would hit specialty crops hard.

“The fact is that the greater majority of your food is harvested by undocumented workers,” said Carr. “I know people don’t want to talk about that and realize that. They’ve turned a blind eye to it.”

Back to news


Spell Check

Lincoln, NE
2/10/2017 01:55 PM

  Agriculture laborers for agriculture production, processing and marketing systems are critical for food production, seed corn production, dairy, swine and beef production operations. The future of agriculture industry will need to seek to develop incentives for employees with benefits that will encourage those workers with health packages, housing and other incentives. That has to come at a time of challenging profitability.

Sumter, SC
2/27/2017 07:04 AM

  No one is arguing that (-im)igrant workers are needed in agriculture -- what the US needs and is entitled to is an observance and adherence to our existing WORK VISA programs for those (currently ILLEGAL) workers who are here. This is for the protection of America as well as worker rights and protections while also ensuring that the appropriate taxes and labor laws are adhered to. So I ask you, WHY DOES AGRICULTURE feel THAT industry should be allowed to function as a key element to hiring ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS, thereby perpetuating HUMAN TRAFFICKING and PREDATORY practices on migrant workers INSTEAD of being obligated like ALL OTHER AMERICAN businesses to ensure the workers they hire HAVE the appropriate GREEN CARDS AND WORK VISAS. You argue that food prices will go up -- well, illegals cost America by driving illegally, not having any health or auto insurance, committing crimes and stealing identification/Social Security numbers of citizens. They also burden the social systems in communities they live when they are part of the population that doesn't get counted because they are not here legally.

Jonesboro, AR
1/30/2017 12:24 PM

  I thought it was against our laws here to hire illegal immigrants.


Corn College TV Education Series


Get nearly 8 hours of educational video with Farm Journal's top agronomists. Produced in the field and neatly organized by topic, from spring prep to post-harvest. Order now!


Market Data provided by
Brought to you by Beyer