The Salad Bowl of America: Are Immigrants Vital to American Agriculture?

Note: this is a speech my daughter wrote for FFA Public Speaking Contest where she advanced to state and placed 6th.

The Salad Bowl of America: Are Immigrants Vital to American Agriculture?

Hannah Wood

Carrollton ACC FFA

6 March 2017

“Creo en el futuro de la agricultura, con una fe que no nace de las palabras sino de los hechos.” In English, that translates as,“I believe in the future of agriculture, with a faith born not of words but of deeds” (FFA Creed). I’m Hannah Wood, representing the Carrollton ACC FFA Chapter, and I have grown up in a home where I hear both Spanish and English. My dad is a Spanish teacher who has helped me better understand the lives and cultures of people with different ethnic backgrounds as well as how immigrants have shaped our country. I’m realizing how those immigrants are intertwined with American agriculture and that immigration will affect the future of agriculture.

The United States’ agricultural system is one of the leading producers and suppliers in the world. The United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service reports that, of the 1 million hired farm workers, 42 percent are foreign born, meaning nearly 500,000 immigrants are working on farms today (Successful Farming).

There is a fear that using immigrant labor takes away jobs and income from American-born workers. Stephen Devadoss and Jeff Luckstead, writing in the Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, found that in California, where 95 percent of farmworkers are immigrants, this fear is not valid. They found that wage reduction was inconsequential, and that it would take over 80 new immigrant farmworkers to displace one American-born farmworker. However, one immigrant farmworker increases vegetable production, for example, by over $23,000 and strengthens the productivity of skilled workers by nearly $12,000 (Devadoss).

The Wall Street Journal reported about 20 percent of agricultural products were not harvested nationwide in 2006, and the losses in 2007 were estimated to be even higher, because there were not enough farm workers to harvest the food (Devadoss). Last year, American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall cautioned a food crisis could occur due to labor shortages in at least 20 states where crops would rot in fields if something didn’t change. That is food wasted that could be feeding the hungry in this country and around the world (Barth).

By the year 2050, the United States will have an estimated 438 million people and the world will have an estimated 9 billion people. How will we feed those people if there are not enough laborers to harvest the food?

Juan Castro, a migrant farm laborer on a tomato farm in Alabama, only makes what he can pick. His day begins at 7 a.m. and goes until 6 p.m., earning $2 for each 25-pound basket he fills. That amounts to about $60 for the day, under the heat of the sun and the dirt of the field, with a chronic pinched nerve in his neck from bending over for hours, and little time for breaks. He said, “the only reason that we can stand it is for our children” (Dwoskin).

Milan Kordestani, CEO and Founder of Milan Farms, said: “As the demand for food products grows along with the population, farmers will increasingly struggle to keep up with demand, leading to the United States developing a reliance on foreign countries to produce our food” (Kordestani).

Solutions have been proposed to help with this problem including the Agricultural Worker Immigration Program. This bill has two components: a new Blue Card program offering a path to citizenship for current undocumented farm workers and the creation of two new Agricultural Visa programs to ensure an adequate, future agricultural workforce (Feinstein).

“Almost all the ideas lead back to one answer,” Kordestani said, “which is that we need to allow immigrants to come into this country to work the jobs American citizens don’t want” (Kordestani).

“I believe that American agriculture can and will hold true to the best traditions of our national life” (FFACreed). This country was founded by immigrants and have been a part of the best traditions in our history. As Kordestani said, “Instead of trying to find a way without immigrants, why don’t we find a way to keep them and continue to allow them to be a part of the American story of agriculture?”

I do believe in the future of agriculture, with a faith born not of words but of deeds — the work and accomplishments of both American born and immigrant farmworkers. Our future depends on it.

 

Bibliography

Barth, Brian. “The High Cost of Cheap Labor.” Modern Farmer. N.p., 23 Feb. 2017. Web. 07 Mar.

Devadoss, Stephen, and Jeff Luckstead. “Contributions of Immigrant Farmworkers to California

Vegetable Production.” Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics. Southern

Agricultural Economics Association, 2008. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.

Dwoskin, Elizabeth. “Why Americans Won’t Do Dirty Jobs.” Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 09 Nov.

  1. Web. 07 Mar. 2017.

“Farm Workers & Immigration.” National Farm Worker Ministry. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb.

2017.

“Feinstein Statement on Immigration Reform.” United States Senator for California. N.p., n.d.

Web. 05 Mar. 2017.

“FFA Creed.” FFA Creed | National FFA Organization. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Mar. 2017.

“How a ‘Day Without Immigrants’ Affects the Agriculture Community.” Successful Farming.

N.p., 17 Feb. 2017. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

“How Inaction on Immigration Impacts the Agricultural Economy.” Immigration Impact. N.p.,

01 Apr. 2015. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Kordestani, Milan. “From Farm To Table: The Lives Of The Immigrants Who Grow Your Food.”

The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 20 Dec. 2016. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Matthews, Dylan. “North Carolina needed 6,500 farm workers. Only 7 Americans stuck it out.”

The Washington Post. WP Company, 15 May 2013. Web. 07 Mar. 2017.

 

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