The advanced countries have increasingly depended on temporary foreign workers to pick crops. The COVID-19 crisis exposes this dramatic shift in farm labor, mainly since about 2010.
On March 18, the Feds shut down processing of temporary (H-2A) visas for farm workers, who come typically from Mexico to pick crops. The crops picked by hand, such as tomatoes and strawberries,, will be most severely affected. Yesterday (March 26) the Feds relented to pressure from the farm industry to waive some visa processing requirements in order to restore the flow of temporary workers.
In FY 2019 258,000 workers came to the U.S. on this visa. That is up from 60,000 in 2011. (Go here for the history of the H-2A program.)
In Europe, the virus shutdown imperils the flow of temporary farm workers from eastern Europe and Morocco. And the lack of farm workers is affecting eastern Europe – Poland uses 500,000 temporary workers from outside the EU for its farms, as its own workers stream into western Europe.