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Topic: Trump-actions have consequences in agriculture

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untanglingwebs
El Supremo

ALTERNATIVE MEDIA SYNDICATE


California Farmers Backed Trump, But Now Fear Losing Field Workers

February 9, 2017


MERCED, Calif. — Jeff Marchini and others in the Central Valley here bet their farms on the election of Donald J. Trump. His message of reducing regulations and taxes appealed to this Republican stronghold, one of Mr. Trump’s strongest bases of support in the state.

As for his promises about cracking down on illegal immigrants, many assumed Mr. Trump’s pledges were mostly just talk. But two weeks into his administration, Mr. Trump has signed executive orders that have upended the country’s immigration laws. Now farmers here are deeply alarmed about what the new policies could mean for their workers, most of whom are unauthorized, and the businesses that depend on them.

“Everything’s coming so quickly,” Mr. Marchini said. “We’re not loading people into buses or deporting them, that’s not happening yet.” As he looked out over a crew of workers bent over as they rifled through muddy leaves to find purple heads of radicchio, he said that as a businessman, Mr. Trump would know that farmers had invested millions of dollars into produce that is growing right now, and that not being able to pick and sell those crops would represent huge losses for the state economy. “I’m confident that he can grasp the magnitude and the anxiety of what’s happening now.”

Mr. Trump’s immigration policies could transform California’s Central Valley, a stretch of lowlands that extends from Sacramento to Bakersfield. Approximately 70 percent of all farmworkers here are living in the United States illegally, according to researchers at University of California, Davis. The impact could reverberate throughout the valley’s precarious economy, where agriculture is by far the largest industry. With 6.5 million people living in the valley, the fields in this state bring in $35 billion a year and provide more of the nation’s food than any other state.

The consequences of a smaller immigrant work force would ripple not just through the orchards and dairies, but also to locally owned businesses, restaurants, schools and even seemingly unrelated industries, like the insurance market.

Many here feel vindicated by the election, and signs declaring “Vote to make America great again” still dot the highways. But in conversations with nearly a dozen farmers, most of whom voted for Mr. Trump, each acknowledged that they relied on workers who provided false documents. And if the administration were to weed out illegal workers, farmers say their businesses would be crippled. Even Republican lawmakers from the region have supported plans that would give farmworkers a path to citizenship.

“If you only have legal labor, certain parts of this industry and this region will not exist,” said Harold McClarty, a fourth-generation farmer in Kingsburg whose operation grows, packs and ships peaches, plums and grapes throughout the country. “If we sent all these people back, it would be a total disaster.”
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Mr. McClarty is not just concerned about his business, but also about his work force, he said. Many of them have worked for him year-round for more than a decade, making at least $11 an hour. After immigration officials audited his employee records a few years ago, he was forced to let go of dozens of employees.

“These people had been working for us for a long time, and we depended on them.”

Now he worries that a Trump administration could mandate a Homeland Security Department program called E-verify, which was aimed at stopping the use of fraudulent documents. In all but a few states, the program is voluntary and only a small fraction of businesses use it.

Farmers here have faced a persistent labor shortage for years, in part because of increased policing at the border and the rising prices charged by smugglers who help people sneak across. The once-steady stream of people coming from rural towns in southern Mexico has nearly stopped entirely. The existing field workers are aging, and many of their children find higher-paying jobs outside agriculture.

Many growers here and across the country are hopeful that the new administration will expand and simplify H-2A visas, which allow them to bring in temporary workers from other countries for agricultural jobs. California farmers have increasingly come to rely on the program in the last few years.
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But Mr. McClarty and others say that legalizing the existing work force should be the first priority. While they support the idea of deporting immigrants who have been convicted of serious crimes, they oppose forcing people to leave the country for minor crimes, like driving without a license. Since the election, they have continued to call their congressional representatives and lobbied through trade associations, like the Western Growers Association, whose chief executive is part of Mr. Trump’s agricultural advisory board.

Farmers are also anxiously awaiting the administration’s plans to alter longstanding trade agreements. Mr. Trump has said he will pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement if he cannot negotiate better terms for the United States. Growers would benefit if Mr. Trump negotiated more favorable terms. But backing out of the agreement entirely could provoke retaliation from Mexico that would hurt California’s agricultural industry, which earned $21 billion from trade last year.

Yet, many of Mr. Trump’s supporters say they are counting on him to follow through on his promises. Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said that limiting the use of foreign labor would push more Americans into jobs that had primarily been performed by immigrants.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s programming computers or picking in fields,” he said, “Any time you’re admitting substitutes for American labor you depress wages and working conditions and deter Americans.”

The prospect has business owners in the valley on edge. Patricia Pantoj runs a travel agency in Madera, north of Fresno, where the city’s approximately 60,000 residents are predominantly Latino and work in the fields. This year, she said, fewer people than ever before traveled back to their hometowns in Mexico.

“They didn’t want to risk it,” she said. “Everyone is scared, even if they have papers.”

A few doors away from the travel agency, Maria Valero said all the customers at her gift shop were undocumented.

“If they went away, I would be out of business tomorrow,” she said.

Jhovani Segura, an insurance agent in Firebaugh, near the southern end of the valley, said that as much as 80 percent of their new car insurance policies came from undocumented immigrants who, under a new state law, became eligible for driver’s licenses in 2015.

“If there were mass deportations, we would have to cancel half of our policies,” he said.

In Ceres, north of Merced, the public school district is the largest employer by a large number, and many of the jobs were created to support the children of immigrants. Administrators say any crackdown would result in huge job losses and would reduce funding, which is distributed by the state based on need, for all the children in the district.

Most of the workers in Mr. McClarty’s vineyards and orchards have well-established lives in the area.

Javier Soto, 46, bought a home for his family of five in Reedley, a city of 25,000 that calls itself “the world’s fruit basket.” He has worked for Mr. McClarty’s farm for the last six years and his supervisor knows he is here without papers.

“It is more scary now that he is really the president and we see what he is doing,” Mr. Soto said.

They are hopeful Mr. Trump will not make good on most of his threats. “Quien más habla, menos hace,” they tell each other — the more you talk, the less you do. There are too many of them, they reason, to throw them all out.

“We’re just waiting and praying, hoping that somebody can convince them that we are not hurting anyone by being here,” said Isabel Rios, 49, who has been picking grapes for the last two decades. Like most women in the fields, she covers her face with a bandanna to protect against the blaring sun, dust and pesticides. Her two children, 9 and 18, are American-born citizens and she worries what will happen to them if she is sent back to Mexico. “Who will benefit if we are not here?”

Mr. Marchini, the radicchio farmer, said he felt similarly after seeing generations of workers on his family farm send their children to college and join the middle class. Mr. Marchini’s family has farmed in the valley for four generations and he grew up working side by side with Mexican immigrants.

He said that no feasible increase in wages or change in conditions would be enough to draw native-born Americans back into the fields.


It was the other conservatives, Mr. Marchini said, who were out of touch about how to deal with foreign workers. “If you find a way to get in here,” he said, “there’s a need for what you do.”


Last edited by untanglingwebs on Fri Feb 17, 2017 10:48 am; edited 1 time in total
Post Sun Feb 12, 2017 11:35 am 
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untanglingwebs
El Supremo

DallasNews.com!




Staff Photographer
The first casualties of Trump's trade wars are Texas cattle ranchers
r
Riichard Parker, Contributor
Connect with Richard Parker


KYLE, Texas - If the first casualty of war is truth, then the first casualties of trade war are the working man and woman. And first among them is about to be the iconic Texas rancher.

Here in the rolling pastures of bright, green spring grass at the edge of the Texas Hill Country, the handful of large spreads prosper from a wet winter. The short-horned Charolais breed, imported from France via Mexico, grow thick and wide, their white coats bright in the sunshine of impending spring. The Charolais makes for some of the finest grass-fed beef in the world. Now that a years-long drought has broken, ranchers can count on trucking in less of that expensive coastal grass they require in the dry months.

But the Texas cattle rancher now faces a new threat: the Trump administration's blundering, blustering trade policy. By threatening a trade war with Mexico within days of inauguration, the president helped trigger a slide in cattle futures. Mexico is a major export market. By sinking the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the new administration cut off long-sought access to the Japanese market. Now banks have raised the conditions for collateral for loans for ranchers.
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Texas ranchers, though, will not be alone for long. Beef producers from Nebraska to the Dakotas face the same problems. So do grain farmers in Kansas and the snow-covered corn fields of Iowa, just like tomato farmers in California and Florida and autoworkers in Michigan, longshoremen, truckers and railway workers in Miami and Houston and Long Beach. These will be the first casualties of a trade war.

Trump fired his opening salvo right after his inauguration by threatening a 20 percent tax on Mexican goods coming into the United States, the funds would ostensibly fund the border wall. That led to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to cancel a summit with the new American president. Trump's was an artillery shell delivered for effect. Peña Nieto answered in kind. Within days, both beat a hasty retreat though, putting their diplomats behind closed doors with the Canadians to work out a new trade agreement.

By then, however, the collateral damage was done. It was clear that the Trump administration would at least re-write trade agreements if not scuttle them. The first to go down was the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And re-writing the rest means, at the very least, injecting uncertainty into what the new rules of trade look like. At the worst, it means that the trade wars will resume in earnest. No state in the country has more exposure to economic damage in each scenario than Texas.

Texas doesn't remotely fit the mold of Trump's enfeebled America that is losing jobs to competitors overseas. Texas is the largest exporter among the 50 states with nearly $280 billion in exports, according to state data. The top destinations: Mexico, followed by Canada, Brazil and China, three of which are now embroiled in trade disputes with Washington even as Texas exports oil, coal, petrochemicals, heavy machinery and transportation equipment. That means Texas is home to some of the nation's busiest ports, such as Laredo, El Paso, Houston and Galveston. More Texans work in trade than in oil and gas. Nearly a half-million work for foreign-owned companies, which have pumped more than $20 billion annually into the economy.

Now all that is at varying forms of risk. Sinking the Trans-Pacific Partnership may have been popular with Trump's supporters, but it was not popular with cattle ranchers. They have been building herds for years and anticipated shipping beef products -- some of which are not exactly popular among American consumers -- to Japan as tariffs fell from 38.5 percent to just over 9 percent. Now that opportunity is gone. Instead, other cattle-producing nations like Australia will try to seize the Japanese market on a bilateral basis.

Last week, Texas ranchers shipped 1,430 cattle to Mexico, most to slaughter and to market. On an annual basis that's 74,000 head, part of a brisk two-way business that sees hundreds of thousands of Mexican cattle coming north to be fattened in Midwestern feed lots. But in the event of a trade war, all bets are off. A tariff here means retaliation by the Mexican government there, and the last time that happened, it was the United States that surrendered. In phasing in NAFTA in the early 2000s, Congress abruptly interrupted the movement of Mexican trucks north. The Mexicans retaliated with a crippling tariff on American tomato growers. The Republican Congress caved and today, Mexican trucks head north freely.

Ranching is a tough business. Even in good times, a margin is thinner than barbed wire. A spike in feed costs here or a change of government policy there and the year is a bust before it's begun. Already cow-calf operators aren't coming close to breaking even on their calves. But ranchers wouldn't be alone. A variety of studies and forecasts show that Iowa corn farmers would find themselves in huge trouble; they are highly dependent on exports to China and to Mexico. So are grain farmers on the High Plains.

The interruption of supply chains between Mexico and Detroit would be felt by autoworkers. Americans export cars, after all, for sale in Mexico -- not just assemble parts of them there. Even shippers are in trouble. Citigroup warned investors about five companies with exposure in Mexico recently. One was Kansas City Southern, whose rails connect Mexico and much of the United States. The stock price plummeted. But that was only after Citigroup cut its own exposure in Mexico first, of course.

Now, even the investor class is starting to feel the headwinds of economic war. Despite a rally at the stock market, the president's policies are now proving logically incoherent when they're put together. The border wall was to be budget-neutral, meaning no new taxes or spending, but now it turns out to cost an estimated $20 billion, which the Mexicans will, in fact, not pay. That means increasing deficit spending or raising taxes, both of which seem non-starters.

A wall and a spending spree on infrastructure will not, it turns out, be free because debt-to-productivity ratios are climbing. Banks are tightening lending conditions, anticipating a profitable credit crunch. Fitch Ratings has warned that the president's erratic foreign and trade policy is causing so much uncertainty that even foreign government debt is starting to look shaky.

"The Trump administration represents a risk to international economic conditions and global sovereign credit fundamentals," according to Fitch. "U.S. policy predictability has diminished, with established international communication channels and relationship norms being set aside and raising the prospect of sudden, unanticipated changes in U.S. policies with potential global implications."

The irony, of course, is that states like Texas, the plains states and Michigan all helped put Trump in office. But the cows in pasture don't care about politics. And cowboys rightly don't care about irony, even if they are to be its first casualties.

Richard Parker is the lecturer-of-practice in journalism at Texas State University. Twitter: @richardparkertx
Post Fri Feb 17, 2017 10:45 am 
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untanglingwebs
El Supremo

Feb 17, 2017 @ 10:21 AM 121 views
FORBES


Trump's Trade Policies Are Bad News for American Farmers

For American farmers and ranchers, voting for Donald Trump was something of a crap shoot.

Those who supported him liked what he said about environmental regulations and estate taxes, both of which he wants to abolish. But they didn’t like what he said about NAFTA and other trade agreements, such as that NAFTA was “a disaster,” and the Trans-Pacific Partnership represented the “rape” of the United States.

Of course, presidential candidates always promise to do things they can’t do unilaterally, like shut down the Department of Education. So, farmers and ranchers can be forgiven for not knowing that the president can’t snap his fingers and change the tax code or make a water quality regulation disappear.

He can, however, pull the United States out of trade agreements, as Trump has already done with the TPP and intends to do with the unfinished Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which the Obama administration was negotiating with the European Union. He also wants to renegotiate NAFTA. That makes farmers and ranchers nervous, because Trump’s goal is to help manufacturers, not farmers.

This is, in part, a consequence of the way he ran his presidential campaign. Other candidates go into diners and cafes to sit with people and talk to them about what’s on their minds. They meet with farmers, autoworkers and teachers. They visit farms, small businesses and factories. They listen and learn.
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Trump never bothered with any of that. He just held rallies where he could say whatever he wanted, lash out at journalists, Mexicans and Muslims, and bask in the adulation of his adoring followers.

Consequently, one of the countless things he failed to learn is that American farmers and ranchers depend heavily on access to foreign markets for their livelihood. The United States is the world’s largest producer of soybeans and about half the annual crop is exported. China, which is a particular target of Trump’s wrath, is the world’s largest buyer of American-grown soybeans. Most American soybean farmers plant their crops specifically for export to China. If Trump starts a trade war with China, those farmers will be in a tough spot.
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Post Fri Feb 17, 2017 11:04 am 
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untanglingwebs
El Supremo

Business #​TrumpsAmerica
Feb 17, 2017 @ 10:21 AM 146 views

Trump's Trade Policies Are Bad News for American Farmers



Continued on page 2

Darci Vetter, who was the chief agricultural trade negotiator in the Obama administration, pointed out that the United States is a surplus agricultural producer and “China has over a billion people who need to eat.” And China’s farmers can’t come close to feeding them all.

“We really need each other,” she said yesterday at a Washington International Trade Association event on U.S.-China trade issues.

Farmers and ranchers were counting on Congress to ratify the TPP before Trump took office. That didn’t happen and Trump trashed the TPP on his first day in the White House.

The consequences of that are far too numerous to list here. But here are a couple that apply to agriculture:

As poor countries like Vietnam become less poor, their people want more of the luxuries that citizens of developed countries enjoy, like beef and wine. American ranchers and vintners were looking forward to providing those things duty-free under the TPP. Now, Vietnam is likely to turn to Australia and other countries for them.

Japan imports most of its beef from Australia. The TPP would have put American beef producers on equal footing with the Australians in competing for sales in the Japanese market. Now, they are left to watch as Australia continues to outsell them there.

American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall said in an interview that farmers were “very nervous and concerned” about Trump’s trade policies. But he said they were encouraged by the fact that Trump says he plans to negotiate bilateral trade agreements with Japan and others.

Of course, the TPP was finished, signed and ready for ratification. Bilateral agreements take years to negotiate to conclusion.
Post Fri Feb 17, 2017 11:09 am 
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untanglingwebs
El Supremo

Trump's Trade Policies Are Bad News for American Farmers

John Brinkley ,

Continued from page 3

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, who chairs the Agriculture Committee, told Politico that he wants to know who is in charge of administration trade policy and “why on earth we are not having more of a conversation on a very robust and predictable trade policy?”

After he and other senators met with Trump administration officials Wednesday about trade policy, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said, “I pointed out that U.S. agriculture is often the first target when countries retaliate against the United States on trade. . . If the president can negotiate better deals for the United States, I’m all for it, but I don’t want to see anything that hurts major sectors of the economy, like agriculture.”

Negotiate better deals? Don’t bet on it.

“I’m going to try and demonstrate that we are going through a pretty rough patch in agriculture,” Roberts said. If Trump makes good on his promises to turn U.S. trade policy into a war against imports, “we are going to get into a very difficult situation.”
Page 3 / 3
Post Fri Feb 17, 2017 11:12 am 
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untanglingwebs
El Supremo

BLOOMBERG
Businessweek
Trump’s Trade Shifts Put Brazil Back in the Agriculture Game
by Fabiana Batista
and Tatiana Freitas
February 6, 2017, 10:50 AM CST February 6, 2017, 11:02 PM CST

Brazil’s agriculture minister sees ‘many opportunities’ ahead
Mexico to discuss possibility of importing soy from Brazil

A worker dumps harvested coffee cherries in a truck at a plantation in the Minas Gerais state near Guaxupe, Brazil. Photographer: Patrícia Monteiro/Bloomberg

Brazil’s agriculture minister expects that rising protectionism in the U.S. will create “many opportunities” for his country’s industry, including increased trade with Mexico.

Mexico’s representatives will discuss the possibility of importing soybean, beef and pork from Brazil in a meeting with local farmers and industry members later this month, Blairo Maggi said Monday at an event in Sao Paulo.

“Brazil is back in the game,” said Maggi, whose family owns one of Brazil’s largest soybean companies, Grupo Amaggi. U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to exit the Trans-Pacific Partnership is also seen as an opportunity for Brazil to increase agricultural trades with Asian countries, Maggi said.

Brazil is the world’s biggest shipper of soybeans, coffee, sugar and orange juice. The country is also the largest exporter of beef and chicken and No. 2 for corn. Still, export volumes to Mexico have room to expand. Last year, Brazil shipped 38.6 million metric tons of the oilseed to China and a mere 129,000 tons to Mexico.
Diversifying Exports

A majority of Mexico’s agricultural imports come from the U.S. Mexico, the world’s third-biggest importer of soybeans, ranks second-largest in corn and the third-largest in pork. Trump told lawmakers last week he wants to accelerate renegotiations for the North American Free Trade Agreement while Mexico’s Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said he’ll start talks as soon as the U.S. is ready.

Reopening Nafta talks comes as Brazil seeks to diversify its agricultural exports, reducing its dependence on China. Still, Brazil faces sanitary restrictions to export beef to nations such as Japan and South Korea.

“It’s good to negotiate with China, but it’s dangerous to focus only on one country,” Maggi said. “Brazil needs to expand trade with other countries.”

Maggi, who is also a former governor of Brazil’s top farming state Mato Grosso, was elected to the Senate in 2011 and became Agriculture Minister last year. Maggi’s family company, Grupo Amaggi, produces about 1 million tons of grains and cotton and had 2015 sales of $3.8 billion. The group also has a trading arm and makes energy and livestock investments.
Post Fri Feb 17, 2017 11:20 am 
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untanglingwebs
El Supremo

U.S. Uncut
Class War
Video Shows Trump Golf Course Paying Migrant Workers $1.50 an Hour
Tom Cahill | January 1, 2017


President-elect Donald Trump has made a fortune off of golf courses bearing his name. At least one has been outed for its treatment of migrant workers.

In a Vice on HBO segment that aired earlier this year, a reporter is shown following a bus of workers employed by a subcontractor hired by the Trump Organization to build the Trump golf course in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). In his interviews with the migrant workers, reporter Ben Anderson discovered that the workers are brought in from Pakistan and offered $3/hour, to work eight-hour shifts with two hours of overtime.

However, upon arrival, the Trump golf course subcontractor only paid the migrant workers $1.50 an hour, confiscated workers’ passports so they couldn’t leave, and housed them in dangerously unsanitary and crowded dormitories with bathrooms that “didn’t look fit for human beings,” according to Anderson.

“If you can have anything, all you would want is to be promised 10 dirhams per hour (currency of UAE), that’s three dollars roughly, instead of the five dirhams — one and a half dollars — that you are being paid. That’s all you’d ask for?” Anderson asked a group of migrant workers.

“Yes,” they all replied, in unison.

To see whether or not this deplorable treatment of workers was just an anomaly from one “bad apple” employer, Anderson followed another bus of Trump golf course migrant workers to another location, which was a two-hour drive away from the work site. There, he interviewed workers who said that they also had their passports taken, and that they were only paid $231 a month. He also captured footage of a small kitchen in the company-provided living quarters that was meant to accommodate 150 workers.

“It must be very busy in here at dinnertime,” Anderson said.

“Yes,” a worker replied.

ANDERSON: “Is it better here, or in Pakistan?”

WORKER: “Pakistan.”

ANDERSON: “Can you go home?”

WORKER: “No, no.”

ANDERSON: “Passports taken?”

WORKER: “Yes, they are with the company.”

In response to the story, the Trump Organization declined an interview, but did issue a boilerplate statement that said it had “zero tolerance” for abusive labor practices at any work site for a construction project bearing its name.

“Trump has licensed its name and brand… Trump does not oversee construction and does not employ or supervise any of the companies or individuals who have been retained to work on the building of the project,” the statement read.

While Trump is likely hoping to distance himself from the exploitation of foreign workers in Dubai, Trump himself has repeatedly demonstrated a preference for hiring workers from foreign countries and paying them a pittance for their labor.

In February, the New York Times reported that since 2010, hundreds of United States citizens have applied for jobs maintaining Trump’s Mar-a-Logo golf club in Palm Beach, Florida, though only 17 of those applicants were hired. In the meantime, hundreds of guest workers from Romania and other countries have been hired to work the grounds at the President-elect’s premier golfing resort. One Florida expert criticized the practice as harmful to American workers’ pay.

“You almost have them as indentured servants,” Palm Beach State College hospitality program director Danny Fontenot told the Times. “They affect everyone else’s wages. You can make a lot of money by never having to give your employees raises.”

Trump has also recently come under fire for pursuing visas for foreign workers at the Trump Winery in Virginia, as it appears to be a conflict of interest given that the billionaire real estate mogul is preparing to oversee the United States Department of Labor in less than three weeks.



Tom Cahill is a writer for US Uncut based in the Pacific Northwest. He specializes in coverage of political, economic, and environmental news. You can contact him via email at tom.v.cahill@gmail.com, or friend him on Facebook.
Post Wed Feb 22, 2017 6:14 am 
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untanglingwebs
El Supremo

Dale G. Young / The Detroit News)


Lansing — Stricter illegal immigration enforcement under President Donald Trump is worrying many Michigan farmers, who say it could hurt their businesses by worsening a migrant labor shortage already years in the making.

As the Trump administration has stepped up deportation of criminals among the country’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, even farmers who voted for the Republican businessman say they fear it could result in the short run in unpicked crops.

Southwest Michigan farmer Fred Leitz said he needs about 225 laborers this year to harvest his crops, but is concerned the seasonal workers – many of whom are Hispanic and travel from Florida and Texas to his farm – will be too frightened to make the long trek. Last year, Leitz said 144 laborers came from Mexico through a federal temporary agriculture worker visa program.

“If I didn’t have migrant labor, I couldn’t plant it,” said Leitz, a pro-Trump farmer who grows tomatoes and cucumbers at his Sodus farm.

The stepped-up enforcement “creates anxiety” for farmers across the state and workers who fear harassment or deportation while traveling from Southern states to Michigan, said Bob Boehm, manager of the Michigan Farm Bureau’s Center for Commodity, Farm and Industry Relations.

“You can’t just tighten the borders without coming up with a viable guest worker program,” Boehm said.

Clover Adams, director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said: “It just seems like even those folks that are here legally are fearful.”

The number of foreign workers allowed on Michigan farms has surged nearly 14 fold from 276 laborers in 2011 to 3,800 last year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Overall, about 40,000 to 45,000 migrant workers come to Michigan annually to help pick crops, according to the Michigan Farm Bureau.

Farmers say they desperately need the foreign workers, approved through the federal H-2A temporary visa program, to get their crops picked on time.

But it’s still not enough to quell the labor shortage in part because farmers say the visa program is cumbersome, costly and time-consuming. Nearly a year ago, the American Farm Bureau Federation warned that federal delays in processing guest farm work visas approached the crisis stage in 20 states including Michigan.

Farmers such as Leitz, who says he doesn’t regret voting for Trump, hope the Republican president will reform the visa program.

“We’re going to have a very strong border, but our businesses will not suffer,” Trump told The Detroit News during a Sept. 3 campaign visit to Detroit. “We need workers, and we will have all of the workers we need.”

The farm labor shortage has grown this decade. It was exacerbated in 2012, when freezes killed Michigan fruits and vegetables spurred by an unusually warm early winter, leaving less work for an already dwindling labor force.

The Farm Bureau is slowly trying to increase the number of international workers – most from Mexico and farther south – but Boehm said “it’s difficult to get people to do some of these jobs.” Some migrant laborers have grown too old and their children sometimes seek better jobs or go to college, he said.

Most Americans don’t want to pick crops because it is grueling work that does not pay well by U.S. standards, Boehm said.

Because machines can’t be used to pick apples, asparagus, cucumbers, tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables, farmers rely on workers who might be here illegally, he said. It puts both the workers and farmers in a precarious situation as Trump promises tighter borders and increased deportations, Boehm said.

“I know that nobody hires an undocumented worker,” he said.

But many workers could have fake documents that look real and questioning them could result in discrimination accusations, Boehm said. So farmers usually operate on a don’t-ask-don’t-tell basis, he said.

John Kran, who is on the national legislative council for the Michigan Farm Bureau, noted that farmers support border security and don’t want “anyone that’s dangerous or a criminal working on their farms or around their families.”

Turning to the temporary visa program for more relief won’t work without major reforms, agriculture experts said. Trump’s executive order adds more uncertainty and strain, said Amanda Culp, a spokeswoman for the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.

“If there is an increase in enforcement, raids and deportations, there will be less labor available for already labor-strapped producers,” Culp said. “This will require more producers to use the H-2A program, which will further exacerbate the demands and inefficiency of the visa process.

“The U.S. agriculture community needs a definitive signal from the administration and Congress on the importance of foreign labor to food production, and the serious need to rework visa programs.”

A few miles away from Leitz in Sodus, 70-year-old Russell Costanza said he is pessimistic about how long his 600-acre Roma tomato and cucumber farm can survive amid labor shortage fears and competition with imported vegetables.

About 125 to 130 seasonal workers have picked crops at his farm for the last 10-15 years, Costanza said. Most workers find him through the federal visa program.

The visa workers are paid an average of $12.75 an hour by law – higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour and Michigan’s minimum of of $8.90 – so Costanza said he struggles to compete with farmers abroad who pay their laborers less.

He used to grow several different types of squash, bell peppers and pickles. But he stopped when he couldn’t turn a profit anymore.

Repairs on his aging farm equipment are costly, and Costanza said he hasn’t been able to afford buying new tractors or trucks.

“So slowly we’re going out of business,” he said. “You can pick any fruit and vegetable, dairy farmer and they’ll tell you same thing.”

Costanza said he voted for Trump. He said he didn’t think Democrat Hillary Clinton would have improved the situation.

Clinton would have legalized illegal migrant laborers, he said, and “as soon as they’re legal, they’d leave the farm.”

Costanza said he still supports Trump.

“I knew there would be enforcement,” he said. “But the public is demanding a strong border. I felt, short term, Trump would be better. Long term, we would be forced into an H-2A program which would be so costly” that farms couldn’t do business.

But Costanza is determined to overcome the adversity.

“We’re gonna stay here and fight,” he said. “If we go down, if we go broke, we go broke. I don’t wanna lose the battle.”
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