Rural America turned out for President Donald Trump in the election, but as farmers get ready to hear him speak at the American Farm Bureau Federation conference on Monday, one issue looms large: a shortage of workers.
The Trump Administration’s hard-line stance on immigration and an increased focus on deportations have farmers worried that they won’t be able to find workers to harvest their crops. It’s one of a few key issues, along with trade, that run counter to farmers’ interests.
Too few workers “is the biggest limiting factor we have on our farms today,” Zippy Duvall, president of the federation, said when asked what he’d like to tell Trump. The bureau, the largest U.S. farmer group, is holding its convention in Nashville, Tennessee.
About a quarter of the U.S. farm workforce, more than 300,000 people, don’t have valid immigration papers, according to a 2009 survey by the Pew Hispanic Center. Other studies suggest the number may be more than 1 million and as much as 70 percent of all workers. A policy focused on closing the border could shift 61 percent of U.S. fruit production to other countries and send jobs to nearby nations such as Mexico, according to a 2014 study commissioned by the federation.