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Trump, Immigration, and Agriculture

Choices magazine | Posted on May 1, 2017

Eight million unauthorized foreigners are part of the U.S. labor force, and at least a million are employed primarily in agriculture. It cannot be a surprise, therefore, to learn that the Trump administration’s plans for a wall on the Mexico-U.S. border, increased deportations, and punishment of “sanctuary cities” that refuse to cooperate with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will be disruptive to American agriculture. New enforcement measures to slow the entry of unauthorized foreigners and plans to remove those already in the United States would have a profound impact on American agriculture. Relying on national household survey data, Passel and Cohn (2016b) estimated that 17% of those employed in agriculture in 2014 were unauthorized, followed by 13% unauthorized workers in the construction industry and 9% in the hospitality sector. Slightly different estimates are found by occupation, with 26% of those with farming occupations were unauthorized, followed by 15% in construction, and 9% each in production and service occupations.   According to NAWS, the share of unauthorized workers has been about 50% in all commodities and areas since around 2000. While there are no reliable data, dairy farmers report that approximately half of their workers are immigrants, and that many are unauthorized (Rural Migration News, 2010). On the other hand, farmers in some commodities and areas supplement their workforces through the legal H-2A guest worker program originally created in 1952 to bring in workers for the sugar cane and apple industries. The U.S. Department of Labor certified 165,000 farm jobs to be filled by H-2A workers in FY16, but some workers fill two or more jobs. The H-2A program is expanding, doubling over the past decade. Florida and North Carolina lead H-2A use among the states, accounting for a quarter of all jobs certified. The states of Washington (apples) and California (vegetables) have the fastest growth in certifications, with the number of H-2A jobs doubling over the past five years. It now seems that the period between 1980 and 2010 was one of abundance in Mexican farm labor, and that era is now largely over. Rising labor costs are likely to prompt a new wave of labor-saving mechanization. A variety of machines are being developed to harvest a number of crops, but their adoption and dispersion is always a function of relative cost scenarios. With labor costs continuing to rise, including recent California legislation raising the minimum wage from $10 an hour in 2016 to $15 by 2022, the trend toward labor-displacing technical change will continue. Two scenarios are possible. First, the number of H-2A guest workers could continue to increase, returning some of US agriculture to labor conditions of the Bracero era, when foreign guest workers lived on the farms where they worked and dominated workforces in particular crops.  Second, rising labor costs could prompt labor-saving mechanization and more imports, with the mix between mechanized production at home and imports from lower-wage countries determined by the speed with which management and technical changes proceed versus trade policies and more efficient production of fruits and vegetables for the US abroad.  The exact mix of guest workers, mechanization, and imports thus depends on US migration and trade policies as well as technology improvements and production abroad. 

Spending Plan Includes Reassurance for Legal Pot

Roll Call | Posted on May 1, 2017

usinesses selling marijuana in states where it is legal just got some reassurance from Congress that they don’t have to worry about a federal crackdown anytime soon. The spending bill that will keep the government open until September includes the extension of a policy that prohibits the Department of Justice from using federal money to interfere with states’ medical marijuana laws.


Farms caught in Canadian trade dispute find buyers for their milk

US News and World Report | Posted on May 1, 2017

Just days before they might have had to close, most of the Wisconsin dairy farms caught up in a trade dispute with Canada have found buyers for their milk, enabling them to stay in business. At risk had been some 58 farms ranging in size from 80 to 3,000 cows. There’s also a “Plan B” in the works, said Gefvert, of Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation. No details have been released, and the plan is only tentative. But it could include finding milk haulers to pick up the product from the displaced farms in hopes of finding a processor for it.Canada has said it’s not to blame for the crisis; it faults American farmers for producing too much milk in a global marketplace flooded with it. But U.S. authorities, including Trump, have said the Canadian dairy system is choking off sales of Wisconsin and New York milk in Canada.“We need to get at the root of the problem,” said Chris Galen, spokesman for the National Milk Producers Federation in Arlington, Va. “There are long-term ramifications that aren’t as visible as a few dozen farms all of a sudden losing their markets. The longer-term impact will affect a much larger number of America’s dairy farmers from coast to coast.”

Border security can take a heavy toll on endangered wildlife

PBS | Posted on April 27, 2017

In one study from 2011, biologists found border fences increased the risk of population decline and extinction, especially for endangered species. Another study from the same year found border security infrastructure could interfere with black bear breeding. Before the border fence between the U.S. and Mexico went up about 10 years ago, conservationists tried to stop it, but ultimately lost that fight. Eighty percent of Arizona’s border with Mexico has some kind of barrier. Gaps do occasionally exist where wildlife can pass, but finding those places isn’t easy.

Low Farm Prices Impacting Ag Economy– Will Executive Branch Trade Policy Help?

Illinois Farm Policy News | Posted on April 27, 2017

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue addressed USDA staff on Tuesday, after he was sworn into office. During his remarks, Sec. Perdue noted that, “One of the challenges that I heard as I visited with over 75 Senators was- we need to have a good trade policy, because our producers out there have been so productive, we have got a lot of stuff we need to sell.  And, we are going to sell it world-wide: Trade is going to be at the top of our agenda, as well as other things, but we have got to be good traders.  We are in a Nation that has been blessed with abundance.”  And note that Wall Street Journal writer Jacob Bunge reported this week that, “The agricultural sector, which heavily relies on exports, has also watched warily as President Trump’s administration has moved ahead with an overhaul of U.S. trade policy, including withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which farm groups generally had backed.”

EPA Criticized in RFS Case

DTN | Posted on April 27, 2017

Attorneys representing the renewable fuels and petroleum industries argued in federal appeals court Monday on the role the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has in implementing the Renewable Fuel Standard.  In oral arguments before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Washington, attorneys defending the EPA made the case that the agency has to consider a number of factors when setting renewable volume obligations.Attorneys for a variety of biofuels interest groups argued the agency has not done in its job of setting biofuels volumes high enough according to the statute.Seth Waxman, an attorney for Americans for Clean Energy, told the court EPA's limited role is to set biofuels volumes.Between 2014 and 2016, EPA set volumes below statute for many biofuels categories, prompting a number of biofuels groups and obligated parties in the RFS to sue the agency.Part of EPA's decision to set volumes lower was based on what the agency said was inadequate supply of biofuels.The biofuels industry has maintained the RFS obligations can be met through the sale and purchase of renewable identification numbers, or RINs, as well as actual biofuels gallons."Congress' clear judgement was that so long as renewable fuels are available, requirements must be met," Waxman said.

Senate confirms Perdue as agriculture secretary

The Washington Post | Posted on April 27, 2017

Former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue was confirmed Monday as secretary of the Agriculture Department, bringing into President Trump’s Cabinet an experienced politician with deep support among agricultural interests. Perdue faced few obstacles to confirmation — the vote Monday was 87 to 11 — after a collegial confirmation hearing last month before the Senate Agriculture Committee, where senators used their testimony time to raise questions about Trump’s budget. Support for Perdue extended far beyond Washington. The former Georgia governor has received thumbs up from hundreds of food and agricultural groups nationwide, including major groups such as the Farm Bureau and the National Restaurant Association.But Perdue may have to contend with deep cuts to the USDA proposed by the president’s budget, which could disproportionately affect rural residents and farmers nationwide, pitting him between the White House’s priorities and those of rural and agricultural interest groups.

Trump slaps first tariffs on Canadian lumber

CNN | Posted on April 27, 2017

The Trump administration is hitting Canada with stiff tariffs of up to 24% on lumber shipped into the United States. These are the first tariffs imposed by President Trump, who during his election campaign threatened to use them on imports from both China and Mexico. The decision on Monday evening is bound to lead to a standoff and could stoke fears of a trade war between the U.S. and Canada, two of the world's largest trade powers. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the tariffs, or taxes, announced Monday evening were being imposed after trade talks on dairy products fell through.

‘What’s Upstream?’ billboard was legal: EPA watchdog

Agri-pulse | Posted on April 27, 2017

EPA grant money used for a clean water campaign targeting farmers was spent properly, the agency’s Office of Inspector General concluded in a report released today. Some of the money went for billboards in Washington state that said “Unregulated agriculture is putting our waterways at risk” and featured a web address –– where visitors could contact state legislators to voice their concerns. But when the news broke that EPA was helping fund the “What’s Upstream?” campaign, farmers and their allies in Congress protested. Fully a third of the House of Representatives sent a letter to then-EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy objecting to the grant, which was made to the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (NWIFC). Sens. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairmen of the Senate Environment and Public Works and Agriculture committees, respectively, asked for an investigation, saying they were “troubled to learn that EPA’s financial assistance appears to improperly fund an advocacy campaign in Washington state that unfairly targets and demonizes farmers and ranchers.”

What Will Farmers Do Without Immigrants?

U.S. News & World Report | Posted on April 27, 2017

The head of Bethel Heights Vineyard looked out over the 100 acres of vines her crew of 20 Mexicans had just finished pruning, worried about what will happen if the Trump administration presses ahead with its crackdown on immigrants.From tending the plants to harvesting the grapes, it takes skill and a strong work ethic to produce the winery's pinot noir and chardonnay, and native-born Americans just aren't willing to work that hard, Patricia Dudley said as a cold rain drenched the vineyard in the hills of Oregon. "Who's going to come out here and do this work when they deport them all?" she asked.President Donald Trump's hard line against immigrants in the U.S. illegally has sent a chill through the nation's agricultural industry, which fears a crackdown will deprive it of the labor it needs to plant, grow and pick the crops that feed the country.Fruit and vegetable growers, dairy and cattle farmers and owners of plant nurseries and vineyards have begun lobbying politicians at home and in Washington to get them to deal with immigration in a way that minimizes the harm to their livelihoods.Some of the farm leaders are Republicans who voted for Trump and are torn, wanting border security but also mercy toward laborers who are not dangerous criminals.Farming uses a higher percentage of illegal labor than any other U.S. industry, according to a Pew Research Center study.Immigrants working illegally in this country accounted for about 46 percent of America's roughly 800,000 crop farmworkers in recent years, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from the U.S. Departments of Labor and Agriculture.