Farm Investors Use Amnesty to Dodge Wage Gains and Robots

on the land worker
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Agriculture investors are trying to block wage gains and to minimize technology investment by sneaking a cheap-labor, farmworker amnesty bill through the Senate.

“This is our biggest worry,” said Preston Huennekens, the government relations manager at the Federation for American Immigration Reform. He added:

There are a lot of [GOP} senators that have very vocal agricultural industries in their in their states, and it can be easy for them to look the other way on agricultural [amnesty] issues while still claiming that they’re strong on the border and strong on immigration enforcement.

Huennekens’ concerns were underlined by a June 16 meeting between Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Joe Biden’s agriculture security, and a battalion of agriculture industry lobbyists.

Bennet, who was part of the 2013 Gang of Eight amnesty disaster that helped defeat five Democratic Senators in 2014, is pushing for quick passage of the Democrats giveaway legislation, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.

The Democrats’ bill is a very crude political deal:  It provides endless cheap labor to agricultural investors in exchange for quickly delivering millions of votes to Democratic politicians. The Democrats get their voters via a fast-track amnesty for at least 1 million farm laborers — plus their spouses and children — and through the future conversion of H-2A workers into American voters.

The losers, of course, would be the many skilled and diligent Americans who lose their rural jobs and their real-estate wealth, the local retailers who would lose customers, the towns that would lose tax revenues, as well as the GOP activists who would lose their political clout and their legislative seats to a wave of new Democratic voters.

The bill would also harm the farm states because it would prop up a low-tech, stoop-labor farming sector that will lose market share to foreign high-tech farmers and urban-based vertical farms. It would also worsen the red states’ continued loss of investment, real-estate wealth, and people to the coastal states and likely exacerbate the opioid drug problem in rural areas.

The lobbyists are trying to push Crapo to endorse the farmworkers’ amnesty in the hope that his approval will win support from other GOP Senators. In a March 19 vote, 30 GOP House members voted for the giveaway.

After the June 16 meeting, Crapo posted a statement that backed the farm sector groups but also did not say he would support the wage-cutting amnesty;

There is no question we must deal with the insufficiencies of the existing agriculture guest worker program in order to ensure a stable and high-quality food supply across our country. The bipartisan roundtable with Secretary Vilsack, Sen. Bennet and stakeholder groups was a meaningful, collaborative discussion. It was an opportunity to engage in robust dialogue on the best path forward for legislation in the Senate.

Crapo has stepped back from initial signals he would back the amnesty.

Several other GOP Senators are talking with Democratic Senators about the farmworker amnesty bill, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD), alongside Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

Farm industry lobbyists insist they are making progress. A June 17 report at Dtnpf.com said:

David Puglia, president and CEO of Western Growers, which represents produce growers in California and other western states, said he is more optimistic about passing the bill this year than in the previous 16 years in which he has worked in the produce industry.

The combination of Bennet and Crapo along with the Biden administration “that clearly wants this to get done” is “a powerful start,” Puglia said in an interview.

[…] It is important to pass the bill this year, Puglia said, because it would be harder to pass the bill during the 2022 election year. What’s needed, Puglia said, is “a formula” to get 60 votes in the Senate.

The farmworker bill is strongly pushed by FWD.us, a pro-migration lobbying group created in 2013 by Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg and other West Coast investors. Those investors include Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who is now the largest owner of farmland in the United States.

The lobbying push comes as farm employers are being forced to pay higher wages and counter a growing wave of foreign-grown food imports, many of which are being supplied by foreign countries with more sun, cheaper workers, U.S.-trained managers, and good transport technology.

Dairyherd.com reported June 3:

To attract employees, ranches, farms, and dairy operations have had to increase wages and sweeten benefit packages. Gross wages alone, which exclude benefits, climbed 7% in April from the prior year for farm workers and 5% for those who work with livestock, including dairy cows.

“Wages continue to be particularly high on the West Coast, where the minimum wage has climbed, and new overtime rules are boosting compensation noticeably,” [Sarina] Sharp says.

Farm employers are also dealing with a wave of Democrat-pushed state laws that are raising farmworkers’ wages. The GOP’s opposition to the farmworker amnesty is also forcing the labor-intensive farm companies to raise wages.

The wage gains, however, may be stopped by the huge number of migrant workers that President Joe Biden’s deputies are waving through the southern border.

So far, the marketplace pressure has forced high-tech investment by the low-tech industry groups for fruit and dairy producers that have long preferred to hire and fire cheap stoop labor.

GrowingProduce.com reported May 18 that the major industry group for west coast farmers has launched a technology development project:

Western Growers has selected 13 innovators for the inaugural cohort of its Global Harvest Automation Initiative (GHAI), a groundbreaking project that aims to automate 50% of specialty crop harvest within 10 years by accelerating the commercialization of harvest automation innovations.

The companies chosen for the cohort all specialize in agricultural robotics, mechanization, and automation and will receive exclusive resources to help them launch and scale.

Federal agencies have provided very little funding — or political pressure — to help farms develop, test, lease, or buy labor-saving machinery.

However, U.S. researchers and investors are trying to keep up with foreign developers:

So-called “row crops” are easy to harvest because they are tough and cheap, for example, soybeans, potatoes, wheat, corn, or carrots.

But many crops are difficult to harvest, especially when the fruit or vegetable has to be retrieved without damaging the plant or the product.

For example, U.S. farms are still reliant on stoop laborers to pick ripe asparagus sticks while leaving unripe sticks in the ground.  However, researchers in New Zealand are working with a U.S. farmer to develop a labor-saving asparagus-picking machine:

In Europe, where labor costs are higher, farmers are putting more money into research and purchases:

Dairy farms are a major force pushing for the H-2A workers because they need to milk their cows three times a day, 365 days per year.

So far, U.S. farmers are have been slow to install robotic cow-milkers and now lag far behind farmers in Europe:

Most farm companies prefer to rely on migrant labor because it can be hired and fired at will, so minimizing operating expenses in tough years.  So if Congress delivered a new wave of cheap workers to U.S. farms, then few company owners need risk their capital by trying to develop, sell, or buy the expensive machines.

But that economic calculus would leave the U.S. economy reliant on the pre-modern stoop-labor provided by an imported population of roughly one million underpaid, tough, no-rights, illegal migrants:

Notably, the labor shortage is also benefiting working Americans outside the farm fields — and the long-term productivity  of the U.S. economy:

For example, meatpacking workers in the Great Plains gained when President Donald Trump’s policy forced their employers to invest in automation and to raise pay. That was a big change in the low-profit, low-tech sector, which has been flooded with cheap workers delivered via the government’s border and refugee policies. On June 9, meatpacker JBS Foods reported it was spending $280 million to upgrade its facilities and to raise wages:

JBS USA has invested $130 million to increase production capacities at two of its major beef processing facilities in Grand Island and Omaha, Neb. …  These expansions will increase processing capacity by nearly 300,000 head of cattle per year, providing increased access and opportunity for the more than 1,100 local cattle producers who support the facilities.

[…]

To ensure consistent access to a skilled workforce, JBS USA has also provided more than $150 million in annualized wage increases over the last twelve months. … Today, the average wage for JBS USA hourly beef team members is more than $22.00.

The farmworker amnesty bill is unlikely to pass through the Senate on its own, said Huennekens.

But, he added, “some senators are going to look at that and say, ‘Well, we can stomach this’ even if they wouldn’t necessarily vote for that on its own in separate legislation.”

“You know there will be vocal opposition to it, but will it be enough to sink an entire package?” he asked. “That’s our primary concern.”

In the House vote on the farmworkers amnesty, 30 GOP members voted for the amnesty and cheap-labor bill. They were:

Mark Amodei (R-NV), Cliff Bentz (R-OR), James Baird (R-IN), Michael Bost (R-IL), Rodney Davis (R-IL), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Andrew Garbarino (R-NY), Carlos Giminez (R-FL), Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), Chris Jacobs (R-NY), David Joyce R-OH), John Katko (R-NY), Douglas LaMalfa (R-CA), Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Devin Nunes, (R-CA), Thomas Reed (R-NY), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Michael Simpson (R-ID), Chris Smith (R-NJ), Lloyd Smucker (R-PA), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Claudia Tenney (R-NY), Glen Thompson (R-PA), Fred Upton (R-MI), and Jefferson Van Drew (R-NJ).

 

 

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