WASHINGTON — An approach to agricultural labor reform that
focuses solely on immigration enforcement would raise food prices over five
years by an additional 5 percent to 6 percent and would cut the nation’s food
and fiber production by as much as a staggering $60 billion.
Those are among the results of a report, “Gauging the Farm
Sector’s Sensitivity to Immigration Reform,” conducted by World Agricultural
Economic and Environmental Services.
The report was commissioned by the American Farm Bureau
Federation and released in conjunction with the #ifarmimmigration grassroots
campaign, a monthlong campaign sponsored by AFBF and the Partnership for a New
American Economy to promote the need for agricultural immigration
By far, the best scenario for farm labor reform both for
consumers and farmers is one that includes immigration enforcement, a redesigned
guest worker program and the opportunity for skilled laborers currently working
in agriculture to earn an adjustment of status.
Under that scenario, there would be little to no effect on
food prices, and the impact on farm income would be less than 1 percent.
Today, U.S. agriculture depends heavily on falsely
documented or undocumented workers and regardless of the reform scenario
studied, it is clear that a legal workforce comes at a price.
“Status quo is not a viable option for anyone involved in
this issue, and as a nation, we expect better,” said AFBF President Bob
Stallman. “Farmers and ranchers recognize there are costs to ensuring they have
a legal, stable workforce. And we are willing to step up to the plate.”
The hardest-hit domestic food sectors under an
enforcement-only scenario are fruit production, which would plummet by 30
percent to 61 percent, and vegetable production, which would decline by 15
percent to 31 percent.
The study also pointed out that while many consider fruit
and vegetable production the most labor-reliant sector, livestock production in
the U.S. would fall by 13 percent to 27 percent.
“Over five years, an enforcement-only approach would lead to
losses in farm income large enough to trigger large scale restructuring of the
sector, higher food prices and greater dependence on imported products.”
“With a reworked guest worker program, and by allowing
skilled laborers to earn an adjustment of status, food prices remain stable and
there are only marginal impacts on production,” he said. “It’s clear that we
need greater enforcement, but those two key reforms must be included in the
“Most Americans believe that they have outgrown farm work,
which is reflected in their unwillingness to take farm jobs, even temporarily,”
Stallman said. “The bottom line of this study is that we either import our labor
or we import our food.”
The study compared changes in farm output, commodity prices,
farm income, farm asset values and food prices across four generic reform
The study is posted at