Data on Fresh Produce Stokes Immigration Fire

Data on Fresh Produce Stokes Immigration Fire

Immigration, ag groups' data finds imports of fresh fruit and vegetables increasing on lack of domestic farm workers

American farmers can't keep up with consumers' demand for fresh fruits and vegetables, largely because of an insufficient workforce for planting, harvesting and fieldwork, a new study released Tuesday by immigration reform proponents found.

The Partnership for a New American Economy and the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform discussed highlights of the study during a press briefing in Washington, D.C. The data was compiled by Steven Broners, Ph.D., a senior economist at Welch Consulting.

Immigration groups say U.S. could capitalize on demand for fresh produce, like apples, if the workforce was available

The report shows how American families are eating more imported fresh produce today than ever before, in substantial part because U.S. fresh produce growers lack enough labor to expand their production and compete with foreign importers.

Related: Immigration, Budget Challenges Among USDA's Top Issues in 2014

"American consumers want fresh U.S.-grown fruits and vegetables, but our farmers don't have the labor force available to meet that demand," said John Feinblatt, chairman of the Partnership for a New American Economy. "This means more produce is imported, and our economy loses millions of dollars and thousands of jobs every year."

The groups are pushing changes to the immigration system, which they say is inadequate for agriculture's needs.

"On the issue of farm labor, we have a growing amount of evidence that all points in the same direction: Farmers and consumers both need responsible immigration reform," American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman commented.

Lost revenue, market share
According to the study, the share of fresh fruits and vegetables consumed by American families that was imported has grown by 79.3% overall, which the groups assert is because U.S. production can't keep up.

According to the groups, production levels have either barely grown or declined, suggesting that domestic production of fresh produce and the demands of consumers are out-of-sync.

That means lost dollars for the American economy, they say. Had U.S. fresh fruit and vegetable growers been able to maintain the domestic market share they held from 1998-2000, an additional $4.9 billion in farming income and 89,300 more jobs could have been realized in 2012 alone. U.S. GDP would have been $12.4 billion higher in 2012, the study also found.

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Tuesday's D.C. discussion follows the February kick-off of the #iFarmImmigration campaign, which combines advocacy efforts between 70 ag groups and the Partnership for a New American Economy.

The group released a full study on the potential impacts of immigration reform on the ag economy in early February, suggesting that a 6% increase in food prices could be possible if immigration policies rely solely on enforcement.

The study also pointed out that while the fruit and vegetable sector would suffer, livestock production in the U.S. would also fall by 13% to 27%.

No end in sight
Though the Senate last summer passed an immigration reform bill, the House has only suggested moving forward with a piecemeal plan.

Many reports speculate that 2014 may not be the year for a full immigration push, however – House Speaker John Boehner has dismissed the idea, citing concerns that the White House, House and Senate will not be able to reach agreement.

Lead member on the #IFarmImmigration campaign, the American Farm Bureau, supports an uncapped Agricultural Worker Visa Program and a pathway to legal status for undocumented workers in agriculture.

View the full report: "No Longer Home Grown: How Labor Shortages are Increasing America's Reliance on Imported Fresh Produce and Slowing U.S. Economic Growth."

Source: Partnership for a New American Economy, AFBF

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