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Workers loaded tomatoes on a truck recently at Lipman Produce in Naples, Fla. The American Farm Bureau says prices will rise if immigration enforcement means there aren’t enough workers to harvest crops.

Wilfredo Lee • Associated Press,

Farmers see higher food prices with selective immigration reform

  • Article by: RON NIXON
  • New York Times News Service
  • February 10, 2014 - 7:58 PM

 

– Immigration reform that focuses solely on enforcement would cut agriculture production and cause a sharp rise in food prices, according to a new study released Monday.

The study — commissioned by the American Farm Bureau, the nation’s largest farm lobby organization — said food prices would increase an additional 5 to 6 percent over the next five years if enforcement-only policies were put into place, because of a lack of workers to harvest crops. It would cost the agriculture sector as much as $60 billion over the same period.

The study comes as Congress and the Obama administration are debating immigration overhaul proposals that would address the status of the country’s estimated 11 million unauthorized workers.

Republican leaders had put forward a modest immigration reform proposal, but many Tea Party activists and conservatives in Congress have opposed all plans that offer amnesty for those in the country illegally. Because of the opposition, House Speaker John Boehner said last week that it was unlikely that an immigration reform bill could pass the House this year.

According to the report, the hardest-hit domestic food sectors under an enforcement-only proposal would be fruit production, which would plummet by 30 to 61 percent, and vegetable production, which would decline by 15 to 31 percent. Both are labor-intensive sectors because most of the crops must be picked by hand.

The study also found that livestock production, which depends on immigrant labor, would fall by 13 to 37 percent.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s main focus is on changing the H-2A visa program, which allows fruit and vegetable growers, slaughterhouses and other agribusinesses to hire temporary workers for jobs that cannot be filled by Americans. The system allows foreign workers to enter the country on a visa for no longer than one year.

But agriculture officials say the system does not work because industries like dairy farming and meat production are year-round enterprises and are unable to fill their need for workers. Among the changes the farm sector wants to see is a system that would allow workers to accept a job under a three-year visa.

The Farm Bureau’s report found that legislation that included these changes would have little to no effect on food prices, and the impact on farm income would be less than 1 percent.

 

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