A song on Friday from Alfonso Serrano from “Time Magazine” reads almost like a parody of the âagricultural labor crisisâ genre. From the headline to quotes from apple growers on farms in Washington, California and Arizona, to blaming immigration reforms, there are all the clichÃ©s – and all of them seem completely counterfactual.
The only thing it doesn’t have: facts supporting the idea that there is a labor shortage on farms in America.
Serrano’s article is titled “Bitter Harvest: US Farmers Blame Billion-Dollar Losses on Immigration Laws”. But the article never confirms this very central claim that losses of a billion dollars exist.
This is probably because there are no billion dollar losses.
As I pointed out earlier, American farmers had their most profitable year in history last year. Profits rose 35.5% to $ 134.7 billion. It is not income and it is not because of rising house prices – it is net cash income, real honest profits to God. (Read more: Shortage of bogus agricultural labor: we need to talk about it)
The year before ? Yes. It was also a new record of profitability.
This year? The US Department of Agriculture expects new profitability records.
So the farmers in Serrano’s article are blaming immigration laws for something that just didn’t happen.
The article begins by talking about apple growers Ralph and Cheryl Broetje, who “rely on approximately 1,000 seasonal workers each year to grow and pack over 6 million boxes of apples on their farm along the Snake River in the ‘east of Washington’.
From time “:
The Broetje, and a growing number of farmers across the country, say a complex web of local and state anti-immigration laws is causing serious labor shortages. With the harvest season in full bloom, strict immigration laws have forced waves of undocumented immigrants to flee some states for more hospitable areas. In their wake, thousands of hectares of crops were left to rot in the fields, as farmers struggled to compensate for labor shortages with domestic help.
“Enforcement of immigration policy has devastated the source of skilled labor on which we have depended for 20 or 30 years,” Ralph Broetje said on a recent teleconference hosted by the National Immigration Forum, adding that last year, Washington farmers, part of an $ 8 billion agriculture industry program – were forced to let 10% of their crops rot on vines and trees. âIt gets worse every year,â says Broetje, âand it will eventually put some producers out of business if Congress doesn’t step in and reform immigration. ”
That sounds really bad. Last year, 10 percent of crops rotted on the vines. It must have been a terrible year for Washington farms, right?
Oh. No wait. It has been a good year in Washington. Farm profits rose from $ 1.98 billion to $ 3.14 billion, an increase of 58%. It’s a crazy increase in profitability. Washington farmers would be the envy of American companies if they were publicly traded.
Serrano then turns to Arizona, where he gives the floor to a pecan farmer named Nan Walden, whose “complaints mirror those of the Broetje.”
Walden says Arizona’s immigration laws have created a climate of fear. It may be true. But it certainly did not create a climate of losses for the farmers. Last year, farm profits in Arizona rose 77%, from $ 734 million to $ 1.3 billion.
What comes next is so beyond reality that it’s almost hard to believe it was printed:
âFarms nationwide, from New York to Georgia to California, are suffering from similar labor shortages, despite offering domestic workers competitive packages that include 401 (k) plans. and health insurance, âwrites Serrano.
The first clause is obviously absurd. Farms nationwide are not “shaken” by anything except a massive influx of profits.
We are living through the great American agricultural boom.
But the intermediate clause, the part stuck between the dashes, borders on parody. The two Serrano states, New York and Georgia, also saw their profits increase last year. New York’s farm profits rose from $ 1.5 billion in 2010 to $ 2.2 billion in 2011, a gain of 53%. Georgia’s growth has been a more moderate increase, from $ 2.5 billion to $ 2.6 billion.
It’s almost as if “Time Magazine” is trying to undermine its own history by naming these states. These are certainly good examples of what is happening nationally, but what is happening nationally is an agricultural boom, not a job crisis.
Now let’s look at this last article. Serrano says farms are suffering from a labor shortage “despite offering domestic workers competitive packages that include 401 (k) plans and health insurance.”
The data certainly does not support this. As I reported yesterday, American farms are not facing rising costs for the workers they hire directly. The costs of workers hired directly by farms fell 3.8 percent from 2010 to 2011, from $ 23.5 billion to $ 22.6 billion.
Next year, the Ministry of Agriculture is expected to decline a further 2.1 percent.
The Ministry of Agriculture’s labor cost figures include the benefits. So if Serrano was right about the benefits and health insurance added to allowances, it means wages are dropping even faster than they appear.
Farm labor is getting cheaper, not more expensive.
The article quotes the Farm Bureau Federation, which is a Washington, DC-based farmer trade group, for the proposition that “labor shortages will result in losses of up to $ 9 billion.”
I could not immediately get someone at the Farm Bureau to explain this number. But it is certainly not a “net loss”. Farms will be profitable this year, we know that for sure. So all we’re really talking about, at best, is the profits are lower than they would be.
But in an industry that is already making record profits and seeing breathtaking profitability gains, why should this be a matter of public concern? Also, with labor costs falling every year, isn’t that just a way of saying that if farmers had their elders, labor costs would drop even faster?
Note to Farmers: If you pay less for workers and earn more from farming, you don’t experience labor shortage. You just are not.
Note to editors and reporters: The next time someone tells you a story about a labor shortage, please ask for evidence that labor prices are rising and this is creating a sort of a larger economic problem.
If any other industry in America complained about a labor shortage amid falling labor costs and rising profits, you would make them laugh at the room. Just because someone is wearing overalls doesn’t mean you have to get incredibly gullible.
Sigh. I imagine that “Bitter Harvest Watch” will have to remain a regular feature for a while.
– by CNBC.com editor-in-chief John Carney
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