Labor supply tops concerns at USDA outlook forum - The Packer

Labor supply tops concerns at USDA outlook forum

02/23/2012 12:47:00 PM
Tara Schupner

ARLINGTON, Va. — U.S. growers have a problem with labor, and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack isn’t shy about identifying who’s responsible for fixing it.

During a Feb. 23 keynote speech at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2012 Agricultural Outlook Forum, Vilsack called on Congress to act on comprehensive immigration reform, lest America face a future where crops rot in the fields because growers lack workers.

“All of America, but especially farm country, needs comprehensive immigration reform, and we need it now,” Vilsack said Feb. 23. “With the risk of rotting crops, there is no excuse for the effort by some who want to demonize immigrant labor or prevent meaningful reform of a system that everyone in the Congress and the country admits is not functioning.”

In a news conference after his presentation, Vilsack said that it’s up to Congress to decide whether the USDA should administer a guest worker program, as some lawmakers have proposed.

“The ability to do anything like (USDA running a guest worker program) requires congressional direction, and the real answer here is comprehensive immigration reform,” he said. “We can talk about half-solutions or focus on talking about a particular industry, but the nation needs comprehensive immigration reform.”

Other challenges facing U.S. agriculture during the next year — and decade — include federal budget cuts, extreme weather events, trade barriers and uncertain global supplies that could drive up food prices, according to speakers at the conference.

As the USDA celebrates its 150th year, it faces the challenge of convincing taxpayers of the value of continuing to support agriculture with their tax dollars, said Dan Glickman, one of eight former secretaries of agriculture during a plenary session.

During his economic outlook, USDA chief economist Joseph Glauber said weather will continue to be a particular worry for agriculture, particularly in the South and Southeast U.S.
“Dryness is expected to persist in the South and get worse,” Glauber said.

A Feb. 16 USDA drought monitor reported more extreme drought than at the same time last year and marked “exceptional” drought throughout western Texas, much of Georgia and northern Florida.

Growers still have time to make decisions before planting their crops, Glauber said.

The trade deficit is also a concern, with the 2011 U.S. trade deficit of $6.2 billion in fresh produce expected to swell to $10.7 billion in 2021, according to USDA long-term projections.

Domestic food sales and farm incomes should continue to be high, with the USDA projecting a $788 million increase in sales value for fruits and vegetables over last year.

“Expect this year to be a strong year for agriculture, especially with trade,” Vilsack said during his keynote speech.

National Editor Tom Karst contributed to this article.



Comments (5) Leave a comment 

Name
e-Mail (required)
Location

Comment:

characters left

Delaware Bob    
Smyrna, Delaware  |  February, 25, 2012 at 11:00 AM

We sure do need comprehensive immigration reform! We have to stop paying for all the benefits the illegal get, stop schooling the illegal alien children and the anchor babies, and get these illegal aliens out of our jobs. We need more raids and more deportations! Theis is good for starters. If you are in this country ILLEGALY, you have NO RIGHT to be here. WHat is so hard to understand about that?

Bonnie    
Los Angeles  |  February, 25, 2012 at 11:58 AM

Our U.S. government including some Police chiefs and Sheriffs have totally gone CORRUPT! Instead of doing their job they have bent over for the Corporations and businesses! If this government could they would locate Sasquatch families in the woods and hand them driver's licenses and Social Security numbers and cater to them as the new consumers! For the love of money!

levotb    
Oakland, CA  |  February, 25, 2012 at 12:22 PM

There is no national shortage of illegal alien farmworkers. The problem is, unlike in the early 50s when most of them stayed in the fields, a good portion of them are absconding to the cities and burbs where the better-condition jobs are. In other words, there's NO ENFORCEMENT MECHANISM working in the H-2A guestworker program and that's the main problem, not whether farmers "like" it or don't like it. If workers remain where they should--in the fields--there won't be a shortage. Now, in GA, due to HB 87, many fled to neighboring states. That can't be blamed on the enforcement law but can be solely blamed on the farmers who (illegally) hired them. So, how can H-2A or that horrible bill HR 2847 being pushed by RINO Lamar Smith provide "an enforcement mechanism" that works? There's truly only one way and it isn't "trust"! It's a two-word answer that's hated by the left as well as Libertarians and RINOs: ankle bracelets.

John Bowman    
California  |  February, 25, 2012 at 12:42 PM

Farmers in California don't want comprehensive amnesty, it didn't work in 1986, and it won't work now. All the illegals who received amnesty in 1986 soon left for construction and other jobs. Additionally another giant amnesty would lead to high population growth and consequent farmland loss as it's paved over to provide more houses and businesses for the increased population. What we want is a guest worker program that lets us hire workers when we need then, not 3 months after we need them. And ideally only allow the worker in, not their families, the families are a distraction and increase public expenses and taxes.

John Bowman    
California  |  February, 27, 2012 at 02:41 PM

Farmers in California don't want comprehensive amnesty, it didn't work in 1986, and it won't work now. All the illegals who received amnesty in 1986 soon left for construction and other jobs. Additionally another giant amnesty would lead to high population growth and consequent farmland loss as it's paved over to provide more houses and businesses for the increased population. What we want is a guest worker program that lets us hire workers when we need then, not 3 months after we need them. And ideally only allow the worker in, not their families, the families are a distraction and increase public expenses and taxes.

Feedback Form
Leads to Insight