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Fake News: NBC News Phony Crop Rot Story Goes Viral

Don’t expect food prices to suddenly skyrocket despite what you’ve heard about crops rotting in the fields in California.

A misleading story on NBC Nightly News has led several news outlets to report incorrect information about the state of California agriculture, sparking fears that food prices might soon rise due to a supposed labor shortage. The report highlighted “immigration fears” and claimed “a surge of arrests” by the Trump administration was partly to blame.

The problem: the central fact relied on by NBC News to back up the anecdotes of the single farmer interviewed is two years old. The connection to current debates over immigration or the Trump administration is simply imaginary.

“The labor shortage is so severe that entire fields like these have gone unharvested. In fact, here in central California in two counties more than $13 million have been lost,” NBC correspondent Jo Ling Kent said while standing in the midst of a lush field of leafy vegetables.

That $13 million figure comes from an annual survey of the members of the Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. But the survey was taken last year and asked respondents about revenue lost due to a lack of workers in 2015. So NBC News was not reporting on current farm conditions but farm conditions as they existed in the seventh year of the Obama administration.

“This has been an ongoing problem and it continues. It’s not something that has suddenly happened,” Claire Wineman of the Association told Breitbart News.

The Association plans to take its next survey in September, but that will ask about the farm situation in 2016. We won’t know how famers in these counties were affected by the Trump administration’s policies until at least 2018.

NBC News also ignored evidence showing that the labor shortage had grown less intense. According to the 2015 survey, farmers in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo said they faced a 13 percent labor shortage for berry crops and a 16 percent shortage for vegetable crops. That was down from past years, in which the reported labor shortage tended to be between 20 percent and 25 percent.

What’s more, the $13 million figure was reportedly out of context. The combined annual value of the fruit and vegetable crop of the two counties is around $1.5 billion, according to government crop reports. So the estimated losses amount to less than one percent of total revenue.

Even that overstates the losses suffered by farmers. The $13 million figure is an estimated gross revenue figure, which means it is an estimate of sales that doesn’t take into account the cost of production, including labor costs. There is no estimate of lost profits due to an alleged lack of labor.

None of this made its way into the NBC Nightly News broadcast on July 23, 2017. Instead, the story was presented with the worst sort of fear-mongering to make it sound like an acute crisis. “Tough Harvest: A labor crisis in one of the country’s top farm areas as immigration fears keep many workers away,” Kate Snow announced at the top of the show.

Introducing the segment, Snow was equally misleading: “In one of the country’s most important farming areas, there are increasing concerns tonight about the harvest and whether crops will have to be left to rot. The problem is labor: not enough workers showing up in the fields. And as NBC’s Jo Ling Kent reports, the underlying issue is immigration.”

The fake news story did not end there. It has cropped up in news stories by several NBC affiliates and other media organizations. CNN Money cited the $13 million figure in a story titled: “Trump’s immigration poses risk to job market.” “Farm Hit By Migrant Labor Crunch,” reported MSNBC.

“The debate on immigration has been hitting America’s farms, which are now losing millions in lost crops due to a shortage of agricultural migrant workers,” NBC’s Los Angeles affiliate reported, citing the Nightly News report.

Now? Again: the central fact of the story is the result of a survey taken last year about farm conditions two years ago.

The latest to fall for the phony story was Fortune Magazine, which Tuesday published a story headlined “California Crops Rot as Immigration Crackdown Creates Farmworker Shortage.”

Vegetable prices may be going up soon, as a shortage of migrant workers is resulting in lost crops in California.

Farmers say they’re having trouble hiring enough people to work during harvest season, causing some crops to rot before they can be picked. Already, the situation has triggered losses of more than $13 million in tow California counties alone, according to NBC News.

The ongoing battle about U.S. immigration policies is blamed for the shortage.

The phrase “Immigration Crackdown” likely led many to mistakenly conclude that this is the result of the Trump administration’s tougher stance on illegal immigration. And the idea that vegetable prices “may be going up soon” is undermined by the fact that the data is old.

One other note: most of the field workers in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo are not “migrant workers.” They are workers who stay in the area year round, according to the Association’s Wineman. An easily checked fact that Fortune missed by, it seems, not checking anything at all.

NBC Nightly News has not yet responded to Breitbart News request for comment on whether it will correct the story.

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