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Quotes from Farmers About Immigrants, Immigration, and Farm Workers

 

Undocumented immigrants contribute some $11 billion to the US economy every year. Some of these immigrants are farm workers (and workers in similar areas, such as the dairy industry) who help to keep American farms open and producing affordable, quality food. As many as 70% of all US farm workers are undocumented immigrants.

Recent history has shown us that whenever anti-immigrant laws start to scare away farm workers (see: Alabama), American farmers go out of business and US farm production is decreased, to the tune of billions of dollars. Below are recent quotes from farmers speaking about why immigrant farm workers are so important, why policies attacking immigrants are bad for US businesses, how much food prices would go up without undocumented immigrants, and why the idea that immigrants are taking American jobs is a myth:

Facts and Research About Immigration and Farm Workers

  • “Rural America went big for Trump. In areas where farming is a major industry, the President- elect won 62 percent of the votes while Hillary Clinton received only 34 percent.” But voters in those areas could stand to lose a lot if Trump cracks down on immigrant workers– Inc. 500
  • Without undocumented immigrant workers, dairy farms estimate that milk could cost $8/gallon while strawberries could cost $15/pound.
  • As of 2014, 51% of workers on dairy farms are immigrants. A complete loss of immigrant labor in dairy farming could cut US economic output by $32 billion, resulting in 208,000 fewer jobs nationwide. — Ohio Star Beacon
  • An immigration policy focused on closing the border would shift as much as 61 percent of U.S. fruit production to other countries and send jobs to nearby nations such as Mexico, in part because wage costs would make U.S. foods less competitive. It would also raise food prices 5-6% as American farms produced 15-31% less vegetables, 30-61% less fruit, 13-27% less meat. Farmers could face net revenue losses of 30-40% and agricultural output would fall by $30-60 billion. “The immediate loss of this large a share of the general work force would cause economic chaos.” — 2014 study from the American Farm Bureau
  • Even in times of economic hardship, Americans do not take farm jobs. In 2011 when ​unemployment was over 10 percent in North Carolina and almost 500,000 people were without jobs, the North Carolina Growers Association still could not recruit native workers. Of the 6500 available jobs at the time, only 268 Americans applied and just seven of the 245 people who had been offered jobs completed the growing season.” — report by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the Center for Global Development.

Quotes About Rising Food Prices and Food Security

[If California farm worker shortage isn’t alleviated, or gets worse] “I will have to scale back, and that means less production. Maybe the quality won’t be that good, because we won’t be able to keep up. If that were to happen, I think instead of $3-4 per pound of strawberries, you’ll probably be paying $12-15 dollars.” — Javier Zamora, farmer in California

[Deportations of farmworkers] “could have a devastating effect on the sector. Agriculture businesses will not be able to produce food and there will be food shortages. We will lose the food security we have in this country.” — Bruce Goldstein, president of Farmworker Justice

“Continued immigration raids on American dairy farms could send milk prices soaring. Jaime Castaneda, Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and Trade Policy for the National Milk Producers Federation, says the price of a gallon of milk could possibly approach $8…He estimates 80 percent of the nation’s milk supply comes from dairy farms that employ foreign labor and states that, if there is a continued effort to remove workers, there will be a significant shortage of milk and higher prices.” — Hoosier Ag Today

The Americans she has hired over the years leave after a week or a month, and in the past two or three years, no American has applied for the jobs she has, she said. “I want the public to know these workers are not taking Americans’ jobs.” — Linda Clark, winery manager in Virginia

“We have documented cases where farmers have lost entire crops, because they simply could not find the people to do the work. We can import labor, or we can import our food.” — Will Rodger, American Farm Bureau

[Deportations of farm workers] “would have a huge effect ​on​ how we are producing food​ and​ how much food we are producing. It would lead to inflation,​ price increases and in some cases shortages of food.​” ​– Tom Colicchio​, Top Chef judge and co-founder of Food Policy Action

“And when we produce here we are generating thousands upon thousands of jobs that are not on the farm necessarily. They’re related to inputs that the farmer must buy in order to produce. They’re related to things that must happen after the crop or product leaves the farm. The multiplier effect for each farmworker is said to be somewhere between 2 and 3 jobs that are created here…If we become reliant on Canada, Mexico, Central America, and…China to feed us, most of the jobs that exist here in agriculture will go offshore to support us…The do-nothing strategy is a net loser because the reality is new folks aren’t coming in, and there is over time going to be attrition of the existing workforce…It doesn’t take a nuclear physicist or rocket scientist to figure out how to solve agriculture’s problem.” — Craig Regelbrugge, AmericanHort

“It’s a frightening prospect. I don’t think voters are connecting the dots. We will have skyrocketing prices, driven by shortages.” — Michael Joseph, Green Chef

“We hope there will be no across-the-board policy that will just send home agricultural workers, if they are good workers and have not been in any kind of trouble.” He said such a move would be devastating to the U.S. food supply. — Chuck Conner, National Association of Farmer Co-operatives

“Domestic food production is a national security issue. The Farm Bill used to be called the Food Security Act, or had the words of national security in there, and then I think the globalization of agriculture, [trade] opened up through NAFTA, has maybe softened an underlying premise of making sure we have adequate resources to have a sustainable domestic food production.” — Bill Crispin, agricultural attorney in Gainesville, Florida

Quotes About Going Out of Business

“The situation is really dire. I was trying to bring farmers back to the state, but I was fighting a lot of unworkable situations. We lost a lot more farmers because of that situation….There’s just no question [Trump is] going to affect farming. I hope they [the farmers] do have people fighting for them, because somebody like Donald Trump has no idea of what it takes on the ground.” — Jerry Spencer, farmer in Alabama

“I don’t just worry about farms and lawsuits, I worry about my own existence. If ICE shows up in the middle of the season, I lose not only my labor source but my farm. It would bring me to my knees.” — Gary Gemme, farmer in Massachusetts

“I have growers who have had to leave crops in the field to rot because they can’t get pickers.” — Karen Caplan, president and CEO of Frieda’s, a specialty produce company in California

If deportations aren’t “accompanied by increases in workers available through legal guest-worker programs, [you’ll see] “operations just shut down.” Zaid Kurdieh, farmer in New York.

“If you remove Mexican labor, farms would go out of business. That’s a given.” — John Rosenow, dairy farmer in Wisconsin

Quotes from Farmers About Immigrants

[Mike Youngquist] said he had raids on his farm decades ago. When that happened, his farmworkers would run away in all directions, hiding in cars, ditches and barns. “Then the problems would start. No one knew where they were. Their kids had nobody to pick them up from school … It’s terrible. Some of the officers here are good and smart. Others, like ones who came here from the southern border, thought they were saving the world by chasing mothers.” — Mike Youngquist, farmer in Washington

[Sarah] Wixson recalled an incident in the small town of Brewster in Eastern Washington where about half the town’s population disappeared overnight following an audit. “It’s a town of 1,500 people or so. The farm wound up letting go of 550 people because the farm was told the hiring forms were suspect. So families and people just left. The town disappeared. It was crazy.” — Sarah Wixson, employment law for Stokes Lawrence

“What you hear about agriculture is true. Agriculture needs immigrant labor. It has for decades. It will continue to need it, and we do everything on our part as an employer to do the paperwork right. But there’s an issue, and we’ve got to deal with that issue at some point. We’re very, very fortunate to have 85 of what I think are some of the best employees in western Kansas. Of those 85, 80 would be of Latino origin. They’re very, very highly skilled individuals. We work very hard to take care of our people. The reality is, the door isn’t big enough to get the quality of people we’d like to see come to this country, and we really look forward to moving that issue forward.” — Kyle Averhoff, farmer in Kansas

[On deportations of farm workers] “It’s not a situation I would ever look forward to, not just because of the business, but personally what these guys lay out on the line every day. The struggles they go through — to harass them needlessly. If they’re breaking the law, get ’em outta here. We don’t need ’em any more than American criminals. But for the most part, they just want to earn some money and send it home.” — unnamed farmer in Vermont

“The people I know are wonderful people. They care about their jobs. We trust them with our animals, for God’s sake. This is everything for us. This is our livelihood. If we were to lose our export markets, it would have a huge, immediate impact on the food industry. Period. They’re not taking away jobs. They’re filling a void. They’re here for the same reasons our parents were. They’re here to provide a better life for themselves and their families.” — unnamed farmer in Vermont

“We have a high percentage of undocumented workers, many of whom have been here for years. They are dependable and they run the machinery and they are managers, and they are some of the most important people on those farm operations. People are very, very concerned because we are afraid our migrant workers won’t come, or these enforcement measures will result in much stricter enforcement and people will end up being pulled off of highways and out of the fields during the season.” — Larry Wooten, North Carolina Farm Bureau

Quotes About Lack of Native-Born Workers

“It appears that almost all U.S. workers prefer almost any labor-market outcome — including long periods of unemployment — to carrying out manual harvest and planting labor.” — Michael Clemens, economist with Center for Global Development

“I don’t trust that temps off the street, or jailhouse labor, or whatever alternative they come up with would work” — Patricia Dudley, grapes farmer in Oregon

[On finding farm workers after Alabama’s HB 56] “It really showed no comparison. The American workers could not do what the Mexican workers did. They were physically and mentally incapable. It’s sad.” — Jerry Spencer, farmer in Alabama

“There’s no way to get people out of the city and into the country to pick crops on short notice without a very dramatic increase in wages.” — Ethan Harris, Bank of America analyst

“You don’t need a deep analysis to understand why farm work wouldn’t be attractive to young Americans.” — Philip Martin, agriculture expert

He hired 483 U.S. applicants, slightly less than a quarter of what he needed; 109 didn’t show up on the first day. Another 321 of them quit, “the vast majority in the first two days.” Only 31 lasted for the entire peach season. — Chalmers R. Carr III, president of Titan Farms in South Carolina

In the last five years, he has advertised in local newspapers and accepted more than a dozen unemployed applicants from the state’s job agency. Even when the average rate on his fields was $20 an hour, the U.S.-born workers lost interest, fast. “We’ve never had one come back after lunch.” — Bob Goehring, grapes farmer in California who is re-engineering his vineyards so they can be harvested by machines

“Greater Omaha Packing believes that we have essentially reached full employment in our area and need to avail ourselves of non-U.S. workers who are willing to fill the jobs we have available that would otherwise remain unfilled.” — Mark Theisen, company attorney for Greater Omaha Packing

“It is very hard work, sometimes at very odd hours or extended hours. Most Americans don’t want to do that work anymore.” — Vermont Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a Hinesburg vegetable and pig farmer

“There is a shortage of ready, willing and able agricultural workers. It’s a crisis. There is not a demographic in the United States that is willing to do the work. It’s hard, cold and dirty. We either will import our workers or we will import our food. It’s one or the other.” — Brandon Mallory, CEO of Agri-Placement Services

“The argument that by allowing immigrants to do work takes away a job from a citizen hasn’t played out in the reality of a typical farm operation. Many farmers have attempted to source labor locally and it is hard if not impossible to find a replacement for that labor.” — Bill Crispin, agricultural attorney in Gainesville, Florida

More Quotes from Farmers About Immigrants

“There’s a real labor shortage.” Unemployment in Massachusetts has dipped and he said many restaurants and businesses are also hiring. If ICE doesn’t raid area farms, “that will be a huge help.” — Wally Czajkowski, farmer in Massachusetts

“Of all my field workers, only two are Americans, and when I can find them, I hire them, but they don’t stay for long. Competition for farm workers has increased considerably. Workers are being paid more now than ever before, but farmers are competing with each other for those workers and there is simply not enough to go around.” — Joe Del Bosque, farmer in California

“A Mexican immigrant labor force is needed if the [chile] industry is to survive. We have been hoping for immigration reform that includes a meaningful farm worker program, but because chile must be harvested by hand, finding enough farm labor is a problem we will face every year.” — Rick Ledbetter, chile farmer in New Mexico

“The Western Growers Association reports that crews are running 20% short on average. Boosting wages and benefits—many employers pay $15 an hour with 401(k)s and paid vacation—has been little help. Instead, employers are cannibalizing one another’s farms. In 2015 the country’s largest lemon grower Limoneira raised wages to $16 per hour, boosted retirement benefits by 20% and offered subsidized housing. But now vineyards in Napa are poaching workers from growers in California’s Central Valley by paying even more.” — Wall Street Journal

Even though this area has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, [California farmer Steve] Murray says he has a hard time finding people to pick his fruit. He didn’t vote for Trump, and he says his business would suffer if the new administration carries through on plans for mass deportations of immigrants. — NPR

“You know what, my restaurants don’t function without immigrants. That starts in the field, people who pick our food, the processing plants, the slaughterhouse, I could go on.” —Silvana Salcido Esparza, chef in Arizona

“Any draconian move to round up and deport people will have a devastating effect on agriculture.” — Bob Martin, director of food system policy, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

[Between 2000 and 2012] “U.S. consumption of fresh produce rose by 10.5 percent, while U.S. production rose only 1.4 percent. As a result, imports of fresh fruits and vegetables have increased by 38 percent over that period, with imports in several categories spiking well over 100 percent…Clearly, U.S. agriculture in the Midwest and elsewhere in the country really needs significant reforms to how the current U.S. immigration system works. The current stalemate is very frustrating to a lot of farmers because it’s forcing them to rethink how they operate their farms, what kind of crops they plant, in a way that’s very limiting to their ability to run a good business.” — Stephanie Mercier, Farm Journal Foundation

“Almost certainly there would be a great deal of difficulty making the engine of agriculture work. [There would be] problems in the food supply if we started shipping people home.” — Tony Sarsam, ReadyPac Foods

“This is a lifeline issue for many of us. I can’t run my farm without my workers …They’re the bedrock of my farm and operation.” — Michael Docter, farmer in Massachusetts

Wally Czajkowski said local and state police should focus on fighting crime rather than acting as Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, and added that keeping young immigrants out of the United States in the years ahead will cripple farms that rely on their labor. “Why spend millions of dollars building a wall to keep out the people we need?” — Wally Czajkowski, farmer in Massachusetts

“There’s not enough guys, and everybody is fighting for everybody else’s guys. In Napa and Sonoma, they’re getting $2,000 a ton [for grapes]. So, those guys can afford to pay $15. For me, I’m just trying to break even.” — Jeff Klein, farmer in California who eventually ripped out 113,000 grapevines on a vineyard his family has owned for decades

“Our customers want more berries, and we could grow them — but we can’t pick and pack them.” — Kevin Murphy, CEO of Driscoll’s, a berry producer in California

“As important as border security and interior law enforcement procedures are, such measures must be paired with a focus on current and future agricultural labor needs.” — Jim Mulhern, milk federation CEO

“Most of the agriculture laborers are Latino. You think about all the berries and flower crops in Skagit County being harvested, losing that workforce would have a major impact on Skagit agriculture.”– Don McMoran, Director of Washington State University Skagit County Extension

“We’ve heard from a number of folks who work on the legal side of labor and from other experts in labor that the raids will be coming. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. That kind of uncertainty does not lead to confidence in the industry from individual farms and folks who rely on seasonal labor from all manners of work in the agriculture sector.” — Allen Rozema, executive director of Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland

“There’s a lot at stake. We all want to protect U.S. jobs. We all want to protect our borders. But at the same time, export markets are difficult to find. We want to protect those markets.” — Doug DiMento, spokesman for Agri-Mark Family Dairy Farms cooperative

Immigration “is an area where could have some disagreements with the president. We support securing the border, but we can’t tolerate just enforcement. It does nothing good for our farmers, it does nothing good for our consumers. The farm labor discussion is around whether or not our country wants to import our labor or whether they want to import their food. I think the American people want to eat food that’s grown in America.”” —  Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation

“I think it’s fair to say that everyone in agriculture is nervous and on edge. Farmers can’t grow, they can’t make long term plans if they don’t have a stable, legal workforce. And so without a doubt this is the number one issue.” — Jackie Klippenstein, Dairy Farmers of America

“If we didn’t have Mexican, primarily Hispanic immigrants here, we would have no dairy industry, so to speak, or folks to work in it. American agriculture relies on immigration. We’d have no California wine, we’d have no Christmas trees, we’d have no green leaf lettuces of any sort, we’d have no fruit.” — Kyle Cherek, food contributor

“There are a lot of immigrants working in the country who are productive and critical to the agriculture and hotel industries. We need those people and some rational immigration policy. If [Trump] makes it harder for qualified people to come in and work and tries to get rid of productive people who are already here, that’s going to be bad.” — Craig Underwood, rancher in California