With up to 80 percent of America's field hands believed to be undocumented workers, and with fewer prospective laborers crossing the border, your appetite for strawberries and other fresh foods may go unsated this spring.
(Related Next America Facts: The Human Cost of Fruits and Vegetables)
"Labor is the No. 1 issue for agriculture. It's not pesticides, water supply, or land use. Without workers, we're out of business."
So says Red Bryan, a California berry producer for 40 years. He echoes farmers' predicament last year, when they faced the state's worst-ever worker shortage, according to CNBC.
Bryan was featured in a Wednesday Wall Street Journal story that examined the economic impact of border and immigration policy on America's food supply.
Highlights from the article, all suggesting rising costs for farmers and consumers:
- Many farmers want the immigration-reform bill to permit more seasonal workers, perhaps allowing some who amass a certain total of work days to stay permanently.
- Fewer individuals risk crossing the border because of cartel violence, more low-skilled jobs recently created in Mexico, and tighter U.S. enforcement from California to Texas.
- Long resistant to securing official temp workers using an agricultural visa, some farmers are now doing so, opting to pay higher wages to prevent a ruined crop or to avoid fines for hiring undocumented workers. The Labor Department reports year-over-year growth in H-2A visas of 8 percent. However, a related issue raised in a Hispanic Business article last summer said that red tape often means workers, on average, arrive 22 days late.
- The average field worker in 2012 earned $10.76 an hour, up from $9.40 in 2007.