Declining numbers of immigrants from Mexico adds even more urgency for U.S. growers to secure an adequate workforce, according to an agriculture labor expert.

Flat immigration rate from Mexico concerns labor group“This is a huge looming issue for agriculture,” said Frank Gasperini, executive vice president of the Vienna, Va.-based National Council of Agricultural Employers. “The topic is where will our workers come from in five or 10 years, because it doesn’t look like they are going to come from Mexico.”

According to a recent report from The Pew Hispanic Center, the net migration flow from Mexico to the U.S. has stopped and perhaps even reversed.

A weaker job market in the U.S., tighter border enforcement and declining birth rates in Mexico are thought to be among the factors for the standstill, according to a news release from the Washington, D.C.-based center.

From 2005 to 2010, about 1.4 million Mexicans immigrated to the U.S. and about the same number, including U.S.-born children, returned to Mexico, according to the report.

That is in stark contrast to 1995 to 2000, when 3 million Mexicans immigrated to the U.S. and fewer than 700,000 returned.

According to the Pew study, there were 6.1 million illegal immigrants from Mexico in 2011, down from about 7 million in 2007.

In 2010, nearly 400,000 illigal immigrants — 73% of them from Mexico — were deported by U.S. authorities.

Gasperini said the outlook in Congress is uncertain this year concerning efforts to introduce changes to agricultural guest worker programs, and the fate of mandatory E-verify legislation is still unsettled.