Rising labor costs could trigger changes in produce industry

Jun 07, 2011
UC Davis labor economist Phillip Martin predicts more mechanization to reduce the need for hand labor.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Immigration reform and stricter enforcement of current immigration laws could significantly boost labor costs for California’s $20 billion fresh fruit, nut and vegetable crops, according to agricultural economists at UC Davis and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This, in turn, would likely prompt the industry to adjust by increasing mechanization and introducing harvesting aids to boost laborers’ productivity, they predict. Imports may also rise.

“California’s produce industry depends on a constant influx of new, foreign-born laborers, and more than half of those are unauthorized laborers, primarily from Mexico,” says Phillip Martin, a professor of agricultural and resource economics and one of the nation’s leading authorities on agricultural labor.

“The cost of hiring these laborers will likely rise as the U.S. government ramps up enforcement of immigration laws by installing more physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border and requiring more audits of workers’ I-9 employment verification forms,” Martin says.

He notes that such audits often cause workers to quit their jobs rather than clear up discrepancies in their documents. As a result, some farm employers already are making plans to hire higher-paid, legal guest workers, who must be provided with government-approved housing.

He projects that immigration reform could result in legalization of currently unauthorized farmworkers, again encouraging farm employers to turn to the higher paid guest workers to tend and harvest their crops.

If labor costs do rise, Martin suggests that three major adjustments could occur: mechanization to reduce the need for hand labor, an increase in produce imports if rising costs make U.S. produce less competitive, and introduction of more harvesting aids to increase the efficiency of laborers.

For example, there could be wider use of mechanized harvesting for raisin-grapes, a shift to more imports in the asparagus industry, and the use of harvesting aids — such as in-field conveyor belts — to speed strawberry harvest.

Martin’s study, conducted with Linda Calvin of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, was supported by USDA and the University of California Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics. The report, titled “Labor Trajectories in California’s Produce Industry,” appears in the current issue of the ARE Update at: agecon.ucdavis.edu/extension/update/ .

Explore further: Migrant employment on the rise

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Unions make both members and nonmembers happier

Nov 05, 2010

It’s no coincidence that American workers have never been more dissatisfied with their jobs, and labor unions’ membership keeps dropping, according to a new study co-authored by University of Notre Dame political scienti ...

Unions make both members, nonmembers happier

Feb 25, 2011

As the Wisconsin battle over union benefits continues to rage, the passion and commitment of people on both sides reflect that the activists are fighting over “a perennial ideological debate in American politics: whether ...

Recommended for you

Migrant employment on the rise

38 minutes ago

Skilled migrants are enjoying better jobs and higher levels of employment thanks to a shift in policy, according to a new study by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at the University ...

Three hours of life per euro

Oct 15, 2014

Public spending appears to have contributed substantially to the fact that life expectancy in eastern Germany has not only increased, but is now almost equivalent to life expectancy in the west. While the possible connection ...

Jobs plentiful for college grads

Oct 14, 2014

The job market for new college graduates is red hot. After several years of modest growth, hiring is expected to jump a whopping 16 percent for newly minted degree-holders in 2014-15, according to key findings ...

User comments : 0