Texas farmer emphasizes need for workable ag labor force

By Mike Barnett

“A farmer should never have to destroy a crop due to the lack of an adequate labor force.”

Attribute that statement to American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) President Bob Stallman. It is a thought echoed throughout Texas and the nation as food spoils in the field because Congress is unwilling to address labor shortages in agriculture.

It’s a grim scenario that is illustrated in the advertisement just released by AFBF and the Partnership for a New American Economy, a bipartisan group of mayors and business leaders who says their purpose is to support immigration reforms that will help create jobs for Americans today. The ad features Bernie Thiel, a Texas farmer who has had to destroy crops two years in a row because he has been unable to find the workers he needs to harvest.

It’s a troubling situation that plagues farmers in Texas and across the nation. Ultimately, if left unresolved, it will affect every consumer who enjoys American-grown fresh fruits, vegetables and a variety of other products that demand the hard, backbreaking labor that many Americans are reluctant to perform.

The very real dilemma of border violence and the unfortunate situation facing unaccompanied immigrant children mask this very real problem facing Texas and American farmers. This advertisement sends a very clear message to Congress. Fix the agricultural labor situation or Americans will suffer the consequences.

John Feinblatt, chairman of the Partnership for a New American Economy, summed it up nicely:

“Our farmers are struggling to do their jobs because they don’t have the workers they need. So while Congress does nothing to address labor shortages, farms fail, food rots and we import more produce from overseas.”

Need a firsthand example? Ask Bernie Thiel.

Mike Barnett

Director of Publications
Texas Farm Bureau
I’m a firm believer that farmers and ranchers will continue to meet the needs of a growing world population by employing equal measures of common sense, conservation and technology.
Follow Mike on Twitter and Facebook.

23 Responses to “Texas farmer emphasizes need for workable ag labor force”

  1. “A farmer should never have to destroy a crop due to the lack of an adequate labor force.”

    Cry me a river…

    I am embarrassed for the person who believes that is a logical argument for open borders/amnesty or whatever it is that the few large-scale operators in veggie/fruit production think will solve their labor problem.

    I could counter that statement with, “A farmer should never plant a crop he doesn’t have the labor force lined up to harvest”.

    Expecting the American taxpayer to foot the bill to support their labor force in the off-season is the ultimate arrogance. Americans are simply fed up with carrying their excess and rejected labor force. A semi-recent study showed that only the first generation immigrant is willing to do this type of work, which means there can NEVER be an end to the need for new immigrant workers.

    As a farmer myself, I am aware that the producer who plants labor-intensive crops makes unbelievable profits. He can afford to pay a wage that will entice more workers willing to do the “backbreaking work” required to harvest his produce.

    The idea that these growers need a massive oversupply of workers from which to choose the cream and reject the rest, is disheartening. Would Mr Thiel have planted that crop he didn’t have the labor force to harvest last year again this year, IF he hadn’t made a significant profit on some other crops that picked up the slack?

    Growers need to quit whining for the status quo to be reinstated, and get creative.

    “… or Americans will suffer the consequences”?

    Can these growers and organization representatives not comprehend that they can’t blackmail the U.S. citizenry into supporting their desire for ultra-cheap labor with a few flavorless peaches, plums or awful tasting tomatoes or under ripe strawberries? Too much of the produce in grocery markets is not worth hauling home.

    The ultimate price is too high. Not the price of the produce, but the cost to American Civil Society.

    Right or wrong, it is my opinion that the American taxpayer would rather have imported food than suffer the indignity of sharing their wealth with a continually burgeoning entitlement class.

    It is a shame, but it isn’t like ag producers have been unable to see this coming. As ag production globalizes, more and more sectors of production will move offshore.

    Bottom line: There will never be mainstream acceptance of “immigration reform” without entitlement reform, FIRST!

    • Mike Barnett says:

      There is a “creative” solution sitting in the U.S. Senate called the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act. (S. 744 that is a good step toward modernizing a broken system. The bipartisan bill would provide an earned path to citizenship for unauthorized farm workers which agriculture needs (and yes, I know you do not agree with that). It also provides a new temporary worker program negotiated by major farm groups and farmworker groups. The bill requires responsibility from everyone–from the workers who are here illegally and from those who hire them. It has been passed by the Senate. What is needed is for the House to take action–on this or some type of immigration reform bill–to get this process moving forward.

      • Sir, your premise is false.

        The current system is not “broken”.

        Several former administrations led by elitist internationalist proponents worked quietly, behind the scenes to usurp established immigration law.

        This POTUS is not the first to use liberal administrative policies to flaunt the rule of law in relation to illegal immigration – but he certainly is the most audacious.

        How do you plan to influence the “unauthorized farm workers” doing farm work to stay in that line of work, given that our society operates under the tenets of the Bill of Rights?

        Negotiating with the (pro-communist) devil (United Farm Workers, et al) is nothing to crow about.

        Furthermore, the so-called “major farm groups” do NOT represent a MAJORITY of farmers, nor do they demonstrate awareness, or address any of the destructive influence their uneducated labor force has on American Civil Society.

        What is going to be hilarious to those of us who see this ploy for what it truly is, is how shocked “farm groups” who have supported legalizing these third-world socialist-leaning savages will be when they organize and form labor UNIONS, striking early and often, leaving the produce rotting in the fields.

        Additionally, I notice you failed to address the conundrum of second generation laborers rejecting the backbreaking work of their parents, resulting in the necessity for a never ending influx of fresh, new immigrants.

        Do you honestly believe that the American middle class who are paying the heavy tab for illegal alien’s drag on community services, is going to put up with this type of uninterrupted INVASION forevermore?

        As is often the case, the answer will be innovation, not unfettered immigration.

        • Gene Hall says:

          Anger is a useful tool for stopping things. For solutions? Not so much, because it does not consider political reality. For this page at this time, no, I’m not going to follow a straw man argument off into something Mike did not write about. He proposed a legal guest worker program. Work, then go home. He did not support illegal immigration. Good thing. He’d probably lose his job if he did.

          For all of the bait and switch arguments here, try this. We can scream AMNESTY all we want. It is a very good description of what we ALREADY have. With most of the nation’s border patrol on the border, with a good portion of state troopers – illegal aliens already have a darn fine imitation of amnesty. They can work and move around however they like. We have a big old carrot here north of the RGrande. There is no stick big enough to deal with it. You guys think I’m a RINO, but I’ve been a pretty reliable R vote for a long time. I’m conservative enough to know I don’t want a police force large enough to forcibly deport 12 million people. Solutions are always built on common ground. I hope we can find some.

          • We’ve had guest worker programs since, at least, the ’30s. And ‘enganchederos’ found work for little pay that forced them to put their children to work instead of sending them to school. They were and are housed so inadequately that it defies belief. No plumbing. No running water. Why would someone volunteer for that? Better to come illegally and reap the benefits. Lol. It’s air conditioned. I live here. I see this. But the thing that bothers me most is the double standard applied to farmers. They are some of the biggest suckers at the government teat. One family of farmers sucks up 1000x the benefits of one illegal family. For not growing! For plowing under crops. Are you a RINO? I don’t know. Are you a a mouthpiece for the folks who line your coffers? Do you defend all your constituents?

          • “… angry, … strawman argument… bait and switch…”

            Charming as ever, I see Mr Hall.

            Do you find that attempting to undermine commenters credibility by mischaracterizing their opinion as less than sincere before replying serves you well?

            Speaking of “bait and switch”, you and Mr Barnett have quite a cute little folly going on here – where you reply to the folks who reply to his pontifications and I surmise he, in turn covers your posterior? Good cop, bad cop… two for the price of one… FYI, Some of us are sufficiently educated that Psy-ops 101 doesn’t work on us.

            I believe you mentioned “political reality”? Here is a big dose of that for you sir.

            I suspect a politically astute PR expert such as yourself fully grasps that the “legal guest worker program” Farm Bureau and the U.S. CoC is supporting will never pass through Congress as a free-standing piece of legislation.

            You and I both know it will be tied to an amnesty bill, so if you dare, explain why we should go through the exercise of pretending we are too politically naive to know this?

            When the rubber hits the road, Farm Bureau will support amnesty/guest worker for millions of uneducated laborers who have never known any government other than some form of statism, and who lack the cultural background and education to grasp the advantages of a capitalistic system.

            I believe I have cited the Pew poll on Hispanic overwhelming preference for socialism, et al to you on a previous occasion.

            So, the question is, “Do we really want to risk our freedom so that a very small number of successful veggie and fruit growers whose operations have grown beyond their ability to manage, can continue to get a steady flow of inexpensive labor ad infinitum?”.

            Most Americans vote NO – and no amount of hornswoggling gyrations by the politically well-connected elitist class will change the minds of the average, well-informed taxpayer.

            Distrust in government is at an all time high. Farm Bureau’s all-out support of a small minority of producers on this issue risks undermining their reputation as a conservative organization.

            As I have asked several times, “How many of these labor-strapped companies are there, and how many unskilled workers do they need annually?”.

            Why is it impossible to get an answer to that question?

  2. Sam Niesner says:

    It’s a shame the country has come to this. We elect polticians who get elected by passing out welfare so people don’t have to work then wonder why they don’t. If we make all the illegals citzens and eligible for welfare why would we beleive they would continue to work? Work permits are OK but no amnesty are the hold problem just gets worse.

    • Mike Barnett says:

      Not talking about amnesty or open borders are anything of the like. We’re talking about a workable program that allows agriculture to find workers to meet its unique needs.

      • Sam Niesner says:

        Who will enforce it? We need to get this administration out before we can have any sensible discussions. We all know what their end game is. Let’s not kid ourselves about who we are dealing with.

  3. Ron Hughes says:

    There’s already enough migrant workers in this country to aid large farmers with all the help they need. If they don’t come over our southern border illegally, our government has been very busy importing them in from other countries. The reason these workers don’t stay on the farm is because, given enough time, they find work such as construction, hospitality work, etc., that pays better money or they join gangs.
    If the farmers were serious about keeping workers, they would pay competitive wages which would keep the workers on the farm and possibly even attract some local laborers.
    I was raised on a small family farm where the workers were my Dad, my Mom, and us kids. Once in a while my Dad hired local Indians to help and local families helped each other. Thanks to government intrusion, regulations, taxes, fees, etc., small farmers have had to sell out to large corporations that don’t care one whit about American workers or families, but, just like the illegals they want to import, they rip off the system at every opportunity and then whine for more.
    Where is the farming family that made this nation? The farmers of old took pride in their independence, creativity, and hard work. They didn’t cry when things went bad, they just bucked up, humped it up, prayed harder, and worked for a better year. The nation was much better off for it, because the farmers gave the people access to wholesome produce and meat, not cloned experiments full of growth hormones and vegetables full of cancer producing chemicals. These farmers aren’t farmers anymore. They’re corporations looking to fill their wallets and make profits for their investors at the expense and detrimental health of the governed. If they need help let them pay decent wages and look to the American workforce for help instead of whining to the government and begging other countries for servile laborers.
    I hear it said all the time that agricultural work is work that Americans won’t do. Horsehockey! Pay a decent wage, provide incentives, get the foreigners out, and watch Americans fill the jobs. No one wants to work in a job where the majority of current workers are from a different country, speak a different language, and have no respect for our country and it’s citizens. No American in his right mind will work for slave wages that can’t provide for a family.
    So farmers, get off your whining high horse, and get real!

    • Gene Hall says:

      Ron – a straw man argument does not help much here. You have jumped to the main problem of immigration reform. Mike speaks only of guest workers. Incidentally, not all of them want to stay. They just want a job. I supposed Bernie will probably plant a crop that he can harvest mechanically, but veggies require unskilled labor. Here’s why it can’t be much higher 1) Farmers cannot pass along costs and it’s illegal to collude to manipulate price, just like it is for Exxon and BP on gasoline. 2) People won’t buy a $30 watermelon on a $20 bunch of carrots. 3) Farmers are not price makers, they are price takers, as they’ve always been. So, that’s why the crop was not picked. It cost him less to let it rot. That’s the choice. Obviously there are not enough of them, Ron. With e-verify, we have the technology to know who they are, and for the first time, a farmer would know if the papers were real. The vast majority cross to work. Deal with that and the rest of the problem is more manageable. These crops are going to be picked in other countries unless we deal in realistic solutions.

      • And how was he subsidized for that? Must be some profit in it if he turns around and does it again. And the straw man argument? We are seeing through that, and we don’t like what we see. I fully understand that what I’ve posted may not see the light of day. I also fully understand that you may not. Just understand that we see conditions first hand while you lunch in Austin. And I’m a Republican, lol!

        • Gene Hall says:

          I’m a Republican too. At least was. Trying to figure everything out like everyone esle. I’m not sure I understand. There was no subsidy here. We are pretty far afield. Mike’s point was just this. If we don’t figure this out, these crops will be grown somewhere else. that’s the truth. Veggies,as you know, very perishable, can change quickly. That crop was harvested last year, but none of us can anticipate everything. As far as I know, everything submitted here has been posted, “in the light of day.” When I lunch, it’s usually in Waco, near my office. I am a farm boy, working for a living, just like a lot of you out there. I get my boots in the farm dust several times a year. When I spoke of the straw man, it was in response to being accused of advocating breaking the law. We are urging respect for the law, giving farmers the tools to verify and hopefully getting willing workers and willing employers together.

    • Gene Hall says:

      If anyone out there has a mechanical solution for picking watermelons, citrus, or greenhouse work, let’s get that thing patented. I agree with DDP that we need that. We should have anticipated it. Dairy folks came up with milking machines, but cow handling is still labor intensive.. A century of trying has produced a lot of watermelon soup. If it’s as simple as all that, that’s how we’ll get rich. Good weekend all.

  4. Sam Niesner says:

    Do you see the politicans engaging in a seroius debate about the merits of immigration? All I hear and see is a bunch of politicians using the issues to try to exploit public opinion in their favor. When you see elected U.S. representatives and senators take the floor in Washington and state openly that anyone who is against amenesty is a racist,a bigot and hates children, how can you have a debate with people like that. It makes our debate irrelevent.

  5. Gene Hall says:

    Sam and Liz – Just one more note before I move on here. Sam, I agree with you that there is no serious debate, on either side of the issue. Liz – just to be clear – the farmers I have written about are working hard to comply with the law and they are offering far more than the minimum wage. There have been guest worker programs but limited and not at all effective. Government farm programs have been scaled back now to only a crop insurance program. Of the crops we’ve written about in this thread, only dairy has a program. Fruits and veggies, melons and nursery and greenhouse crops do not. Thanks all for posting.

  6. Sam Niesner says:

    Isn’t the republican’s approach to the problem is to first stop the massive influx? Then start working on the work visa’s when you have some control of the border and confidence that we are not being exloited by politicians? That would get my support.

    • Mike Barnett says:

      It looks to me the Republican approach has been to tie everything up and hope the problem will go away. There is legislation in the Senate–a bipartisan plan that would address this issue–and it languishes because of lack of support in the House. It would be nice for the House to offer something to get this ball rolling.

      • Gene Hall says:

        Maybe Sam – What about those on dairy farms milking cows twice a day? Workers presented the farmer with documents…but if you do e-verify at the same time … well, those cows have to be milked twice a day. I agree with you that we have to secure the border. I just think if you use technology to e-verify, issue work visas, then you’ve made the illegal entry problem smaller. You won’t have INS chasing people who want to pick fruit and put on my roof. Do it at the same time. That’s the reasonable compromise that works here. Of course, we know how the Heritage Foundation and other far right groups work. “Let’s break this thing up and do it separate. Do my part first.” Then – they back out and work against the rest. It can effectively be done all together and is nowhere near the massive complexity of Obamcare, which BTW, TFB and I opposed.

  7. Sam Niesner says:

    The bill in the senate is so masive that it could not be enforced, that was why the republicans want to do it in steps. That massive comprenhensive bill is designed to be similair to Obamacare. which is just get something out there and we will make it work later. No, and I stress no, confidence the federal goverment would enforce it or would even have any plans to.

  8. Sam Niesner says:

    I can see the flustrationwhich is the trust factor. Maybe TFB could help by polling members on what they want. We need to be united to have a voice in the national debate.

    • Gene Hall says:

      Sam, though we might not agree, I appreciate your grasp of the problem. Tx Farm Bureau has a policy approved by farmer/rancher voting delegates. Each policy in the book begins as an idea at the county Farm Bureau level. CFB annual meetings vote on those, then on to state and for national to the American FB meeting. So, we are pretty much doing what you suggest. Farmers and ranchers seeking changes should attend those county meeting with their ideas and membership cards.

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