The New York Times has reported that there are fewer illegal immigrants in the country, which has caused a shortage of farm labor. This has led farms to create innovative strategies to meet their production goals which includes wage-enhancing farm robots.
The New York Times reported, “The new demographic reality has sent farmers scrambling to bring in more highly paid foreign workers on temporary guest-worker visas, experiment with automation wherever they can and even replace crops with less labor-intensive alternatives. ‘Back in the day, you had people galore,’ said Vanessa Quinlan, director of human resources at Sabor Farms.”
Farming would become the next industry to use technology to replace workers. While this may be a good alternative, according to Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) there’s another pathway that may be more reasonable and readily available.
Newhouse has pushed for the passage of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. This would allow more low-wage migrant workers to tend the fields and increase production without the need for automation. It would also give the migrant workers green cards and vote.
So far, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act has passed in the House of Representatives and has been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Farms have been able to operate at low costs for years, but recently they’ve been outpaced by farms in Mexico and Europe with cheap labor. Europe has higher wages, but they’ve been able to develop machines and robots to offset the cost of labor.
Many Democrats are against migrants utilizing H-2A visas because migrants don’t become permanent citizens. Labor Secretary Mary Walsh is insistent that the United States import more workers. It’s almost as if she hasn’t seen the southern border the last year and a half with record numbers of border crossings by illegal immigrants.
In May, Walsh told a House committee, “We need real immigration reform in this country for a pathway to citizenship. Not H-2B visas, H-2A visas, not those visas — that’s not immigration.”
Some Republicans are also in favor of cheap labor such as Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) who said that there was a demand for cheap labor in April.
Rising wage prices have also changed the dairy industry. Wages in 2015 were $615 and now they’ve risen to $750. A large portion of dairy farms in Idaho have a ratio of 100 or more to one with an average of 26 workers per farm.
Illegal immigrants are also concerned. Jose Luis Hernandez, who crossed into the country illegally told the New York Times that automation is killing farming opportunities for migrants. Hernandez said, “It scares me that they are coming with H-2As and also with robots. That’s going to take us down.”