Neil Munro, Breitbart, February 11, 2021
Robots are replacing unskilled migrants in American farm jobs, but farmers still want skilled migrants to operate the robots, says the president of a major farm advocacy group.
“While advances in robotics have replaced some farm jobs, we need skilled employees to manage that equipment,” said Zippy Duvall, the president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. In a February 3 post on the groups’ website, he wrote:
U.S. agriculture needs a flexible guest-worker program that allows contract and at-will employment options that work for both seasonal and year-round needs on the farm. We also need to make sure wage requirements take into account the economic conditions of the agriculture industry and enable farms to remain viable.
The “guest worker” program cited by Duvall refers to the H-2A program. Democrats are signaling they are will expand it — if farmers persuade GOP legislators to be OK on an amnesty to lock in Democratic political and economic dominance for many years.
Duvall wants to make a deal, saying:
The American Farm Bureau is ready to work with the Administration and Congress to bring these long overdue reforms to our guest worker program to help provide long-term security to our employees, farm businesses and the rural economy.
That is a political problem for the many GOP members who represent the farming districts, where the interest of farm employers in cheap labor is deeply contradictory to the interest of many wage-earning voters, as well as myriad local retailers, real estate people, and other professionals who eventually receive a hare of those wages. The tension has helped torpedo prior cheap-labor deals that were pushed by Democrats and some Republicans.
“Legislators need to balance the interests within the agricultural sector — the employers’ desire to maximize profits compared to the numerous Americans who are seeking a fair wage,” said Rob Law, the legislative and regulatory director at the Center for Immigration Studies.
Guest workers “create an artificial bubble during the growing season, and what is left behind is a ghost town of Americans who have no jobs, no opportunities. And, frankly, no, town.”
Big, automated, corporate farms have enough profits to pay their workers, he said, adding:
… it’s a permanent financial redistribution away from rural America, into foreign countries across the world by use of guest worker programs .. they’re choosing the course of least resistance, out of convenience and do not to care about the repercussions to the local community in which these farm companies actually are doing business.
But some GOP legislators — such as orchard owner Rep. Dan Newhouse ( R-WA) — have long supported easier access to migrant labor.
The H-2A program has grown rapidly over the last several years as farmers say they face a shortage of Americans willing to work in unmechanized and unautomated fruit picking and stoop labor jobs.
But alongside the Mexican and Central American stoop labor, farmers are using the program to import skilled machine operators from countries such as South Africa instead of recruiting, training, and paying young Americans.
The H-2A program allows the owners of large farms to escape the economic pressure of the United States’ labor market, where CEOs must bargain over wages and conditions with legally equal Americans. Those Americans are free to demand a higher share of profits, quit their contracts, demand benefits such as healthcare, or take time off to care for their children.
But the farm managers have far more control over the cheap and compliant H-2A workers — as well as J-1 visa workers who also serve as machine operators.
HOPEWELL – A Cumberland County nursery was ordered to pay more than $143,000 in back wages and penalties following a federal Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division investigation that found it paid foreign workers better than U.S. citizens.
The H-2A labor also includes skilled operators for combine harvesters, planter, weeders, sprayers, tractors, trucks — and for the next wave of automated, robotic farming machinery.
The labor outsourcing is great for South African workers. Businessinsider.co.za reported February 3 that recruiters are offering visa workers $2,000 a month for U.S jobs: “We are looking for people who have agricultural experience in machines, like combines, tractors, grain carts and also truck drivers,” explains Celia van Heerden of Golden Opportunities International.
In his February 3 post, Duvall complained about the difficulty of recruiting American:
Even with competitive wages and added benefits, there is less interest in farm jobs as folks leave rural areas and are more removed from the farm. Meanwhile the current farm workforce is aging, and farmers are struggling to keep up with filling positions. Margins are slim even in the best seasons on the farm, and farmers can find it hard to stay competitive with other industries and lower-priced agricultural imports.
It’s time we find a solution that provides farmers, our employees and our families the stability we all need to keep America’s farms growing.
“My advice for all politicians,” said Law, “is that you should advocate for the American people because those are the actual voters, and there are more voters than there are donors.”
“The agricultural sector is just saying that Americans need not apply — go figure out something else,” said Law.