The future of the American farmer is bleak.
Farmers themselves are hinting that the end is near for their career in the field, amid increasing costs, decreasing prices and steady imports from Mexico.
One significant help would come in reform to the current H-2A guestworker program, according to Allison Crittenden, Director of Congressional Relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation. American farmers need it now more than ever.
“Without addressing Ag Labor reform and without making changes to the H-2A program to enable farmers to have access to a workforce and still be able to make the business structure work and enable them to become competitive; if we don’t fix these problems, then American agriculture is in danger,” Crittenden said. “If we don’t have a workforce, how can we produce crops in this country?”
Rising Wage Prices
Reform is mainly needed because prices have risen significantly over the past five years. Crittenden said the national average for the Adverse Effect Wage Rate has increased by 20% in the last five years. Following the latest wage increase, Florida’s hourly rate is $12.08, while Georgia and Alabama are $11.81. That’s not counting additional costs for housing and transportation.
“This is all occurring against the backdrop that prices are rather stagnant in terms of labor-intensive crops. There’s a lot of downward pressure from imports from other countries where those employees in those countries get paid in a day where American H-2A workers get paid in an hour here,” Crittenden said. “We have to find a way to enable farmers to remain competitive while providing them access to that labor force that we so desperately need.”
Two members of the House of Representatives introduced a potential solution last week with the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. It would reform H-2A wages to better reflect real-world wages while protecting against sudden wage increases.
“We need an immediate solution, but we have to be careful about what we consider to be a solution. We haven’t addressed Ag Labor reform in a substantive way in over 30 years. It’s critically important that we get it right this time around when we do,” Crittenden said.