Fewer illegal farm workers encourages innovation, increased productivity in agriculture

President Donald Trump’s low-migration policies have helped push American farms to invest in a ‘revolutionary’ new generation of labor-saving, wage-enhancing farming robots, according to the New York Times.

Under the headline, “Illegal immigration is down, changing the face of California farms,” ​​the paper writes:

The new demographic reality has seen farmers scrambling to bring in better paid foreign workers on temporary guest worker visas, experiment with automation wherever they can, and even replace crops with less labor intensive alternatives. ‘work.

“Back then, you had people galore,” said Vanessa Quinlan, human resources manager at Sabor Farms..

“We’re living on borrowed time,” said Dave Puglia, president of the Western Growers trade association, a major agricultural lobby in the western United States. “I want half the harvesting of produce to be mechanized in 10 years – there’s no other way,” he told the New York Times.

More automation and more robots mean American workers and businesses can do more work in less time – and thus earn higher wages for themselves and their families.

But many specialty crop growers — and Wall Street — are still hoping for a cheap labor bailout from the federal government. For example, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) owns an orchard and lobbied for the passage of the misnamed Farm Workforce Modernization Act. The legislation would give orchard owners access to significantly more low-wage migrant labor in return for allowing those migrant workers to obtain green cards and vote in subsequent elections.

For decades, agricultural businesses that produce fresh produce and specialty crops – apples, strawberries, raspberries and asparagus, to name a few examples – have been able to avoid investing in automation and rely instead on one hand. – of modest work. This policy was possible because lawmakers in farming communities, the federal government, and many left-wing progressives allowed them to employ an unlimited flow of illegal immigrants.

The result is that some crops have largely disappeared from American fields, with domestic growers being overtaken by Mexican farms with even cheaper labor. In Europe, where wages are much higher, European tech companies have developed a wide range of machines and robots to harvest their crops, such as asparagus and leeks:

But U.S. fresh produce companies continue to use bent-over labor, often with encouragement from Democrats:

American agricultural companies are also losing market share to high-tech urban “vertical farms” that grow produce in artificially lit warehouses:

Over the past decade, agricultural companies have tried to delay the inevitable by importing many workers on H-2A visas to minimize their labor costs.

But Democrats don’t like the H-2A visa program because most workers go home without trying to become Democratic voting citizens, so Democrats in DC and state capitals have allowed wages and benefits H-2A to rise well above the price of illegals. “We need real immigration reform in this country to pave the way for citizenship,” Labor Secretary Mary Walsh told a House committee on May 17. “Not H-2B visas, H-2A visas, not these visas – that’s not immigration.”

Many Republicans are also calling for more cheap labor to benefit their local donors — even though the main effect of this policy is to provide more labor, investment and wealth to coastal cities. “We have people who need workers,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) told MSNBC in April. “Whether it’s doctors, engineers or workers in factories or fields, there is a growing demand.”

Most of the new illegal migrants abandoned in 2021 and 2022 by Biden’s loose border policies are heading to relatives in big cities. For example, the New York Times reported on May 30 on the routine abuse of migrant workers in New York’s construction industry:

In 2018, Marco Martínez, a newly arrived teenager from Ecuador, died after being crushed against a ceiling by a mechanical elevator. A year later, Michael Daves, who was living in a men’s shelter and battling drug addiction, died after falling down a hole.

And now Yonin Pineda, a 29-year-old Guatemalan, is unconscious and seriously injured. His diligent Mexican foreman, Mauricio Sánchez, 41, lies dead beside him, his face mutilated, his chest torn, his blood staining the shattered concrete.

The three workers who died lived on the outskirts of town: two were undocumented immigrants, one homeless. Only the latest death received local media coverage, and it was brief. None of the men had union representation.

Thus, the post-Trump reduction in migration leaves American production of many specialty crops crippled by their decades-long reliance on cheap, short-sighted, government-sanctioned labor.

The so-called “row crop” sector of American agriculture is very advanced and allows each man to produce a huge amount of product every day. For example, cotton growing:

Rising wages are forcing the dairy sector to invest in more robots. For example, Rural Migration News reported in April that:

Idaho’s dairy industry is growing. In 2020, some 280 dairies with an average of 7,300 employees were declared to the QCEW, an average of 26 for each dairy that had an average of 2,000 to 2,500 cows. Idaho has approximately 650,000 dairy cows, and using robotics and other technologies, the cow-to-worker ratio is often 100 or more. The average weekly wage in dairy farming was $750 in 2020, up 22% from $615 in 2015.

U.S. meat packers are also behind foreign competitors, Rural Migration News reported in January 2021:

Meat packing automation is more advanced in China and Europe. Danish Crown has a more automated pork processing plant in Horsens [Denmark] which uses robots to kill, bleed and remove meat from carcasses. At Danish Crown, the number of pigs processed per worker per week, 60, is double the 30 pigs per worker per week at the Smithfield factories. Prestage Farms in Eagle Grove, Iowa, opened an automated pork processing plant using European equipment with a similar productivity of 60 hogs per week per worker.

And the “fresh produce” specialty crop sector lags far behind other US economic sectors in automation.

According to a report by the Western Growers Association, only about 20% of specialty crop harvesting will be automated by 2025. However, the group’s goal is “to automate 50% of harvesting in the United States” by by 2031, according to the report.

“80% of producers have invested in automating pre-harvest activities and 55% in harvest assist devices, but only 30% in harvesting,” Rural Migration News reported in March 2022.

One of the biggest crops – strawberries – does not use any harvesting automation. However, a few companies are making progress:

Unsurprisingly, illegal migrants feel threatened by the new wave of robots and higher paid workers on H-2A visas.

José Luis Hernández from Ejutla to Oaxaca [in Mexico] entered the United States as teenagers more than 15 years ago. Now they live in Stockton, working mainly in the vineyards of Lodi and Napa… He worries about the future. “It scares me that they come with H-2As and also with robots,” he said. “This will bring us down.”

Meanwhile, China is also developing high-tech farms:


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