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Labor Shortage Will Restrict Economic Growth, Impact Agriculture

  

Apr 14, 2017

    

An editorial in the Thursday, March 30th edition of the Wall Street Journal highlights the growing problem of non-availability of potential employees at both ends of the pay spectrum.

There is an effective shortage of qualified technical workers requiring the release of special visas, although it is evident that some companies in high-tech are gaming the system to replace functional long-term U.S. citizens with cheaper imported workers.

  

Of greater concern to agriculture is the shortage of skilled manual workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are 150,000 unfilled construction jobs raising the cost of housing and industrial projects.  Implementation of a crash program of infrastructure improvement may well be constrained by available skilled labor.

 Restrictions on H-2A visas for agricultural workers is impairing the ability of farmers to gather crops despite successively increasing wage rates to as much as $16 to $20 per hour for vineyards and orchards in California. Increased surveillance and action by ICE. has reduced the number of undocumented workers who effectively complement the ranks of domestic and eligible foreign laborers.

Contract egg-production farms usually operate with family labor supplemented with local workers. With the trend to larger farms, however, it has become necessary to employ full-time stockmen which requires both a competitive wage and acceptable accommodations.

Some of the arrangements for foreign workers represent a distinct biosecurity risk as evidenced by the 2002 outbreaks of H7N2 LPAI among turkey farms in the Shenandoah Valley. Where egg-production complexes are located near industrial centers obtaining reliable and conscientious workers is difficult.

In discussion with egg producers in the Midwest, one manager opined that the only requirement for employment in his operation was that the candidate could pass a drug test.

If we are to progress and achieve the goals expressed by new Administration it will be necessary to critically review immigration and employment policy and to ensure that pre-election rhetoric conforms to economic reality. This predicates appropriate visa programs and we will look to the wisdom, image and counsel of incoming Secretary of Agriculture Dr. Sonny Perdue to positively influence Administration policy to the benefit of the intensive farming community.