What happens when immigrants leave farming?

A Washington Post article thrust into the spotlight the role of unauthorized workers in farming. About 70% of farmworkers are foreign born and of them about half are unauthorized. The Department of Agriculture looked into the impact of removing these workers; its documents are no longer available on the web, but here is a summary, found here:

In one report, modeling showed that more farm production would happen due to “temporary non-immigrant farmworkers”, but “a large reduction in the number of unauthorized workers in all economic sectors resulted in a long run relative reduction in output and exports for both agriculture and the broader economy. (The deleted report is “Immigration Policy and Its Possible Effects on U.S. Agriculture”)

In a second report, if farm wages rise, or unauthorized workers are no longer available — “case studies suggested a range of possible adjustment scenarios, including increased mechanization for crops such as baby leaf lettuce, Florida juice oranges, and raisin grapes. Production of other crops, such as apples and fresh strawberries, would likely rely increasingly on aids such as hydraulic platforms and conveyor belts to improve labor productivity. Crops that cannot readily be mechanized and face significant competition for export markets, or from imports, would likely see domestic production levels fall.

A 2011 report from the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which argues or less immigration, in fact a moratorium on immigration,

looks at the wage impact of removing unauthorized workers:

“Authorized workers are observed to be willing to accept wages that are 18% higher than unauthorized workers in the fruits, nuts, and vegetable sector and 22% higher in field crops and grains…• If unauthorized workers were replaced by authorized workers at the higher average wage rate authorized, workers currently earn, farms in the fruits, nuts, and vegetable sector would experience a total labor cost increase of 10%, and the increase for the field crops and grains sector would be 6%.”

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