Monday, December 05, 2005

Outsourced Agriculture

The soil in my backyard in California was awesome. I never added anything to it or had to prepare it. I would just pop a plant out of its plastic container from the nursery, loosen the roots, and stick it in the ground, and no matter what it was, it would grow like a weed. Except pumpkins. I got a couple of flowers, but never any pumpkins.

So you would think that awesome growing conditions -- especially the weather and length of growing season -- would pretty much ensure California's place as an agricultural producer. Farmer's can't outsource their crops, after all!

But a labor shortage in agriculture could mean outsourced produce.
While the shortage is already making it tough for farmers up and down the state who rely on the low-cost laborers to harvest their crops, without federal legislation to ease the shortage they say it's going to get worse. Luawanna Hallstrom, who farms in San Diego and is co-chairwoman of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform, said that if workers can't get to the fields, the fields will go to them.

"We've got a huge crisis on our hands," Hallstrom said. "People think that if we just close the borders, we won't have any problems, but the food that is put on the plates of Americans every day is from labor outsourced to people from outside this country. People need to understand that the crops will be harvested by that labor whether it happens in this country or another country."
Hallstrom said relief will come only when people understand that a closed border is against the country's best interests."This is very complicated. There are national security issues and an economy that depends on this labor," she said. "We need to stop looking at this as a border control issue and face the reality of the situation. When people are willing to do that we will find a solution that makes sense we can then be responsible for who's in this country and why."

The reason people sneak into this country to work is obviously because there are jobs available to them and they cannot get permission to enter. I just don't get why there aren't enough legal immigrants to fill the needed jobs, unless there's some quota, which means the government is blocking legitimate businesses from getting legitimate workers.

Employers sometimes drive down to street corners to pick the required number of workers from an available pool. Why can't we figure out a program that will allow employers, in cooperation with a government agency, to do virtually the same thing? If Mexico can document the citizens, the citizens can head to the border, register for work that employers have listed, get picked up by buses or vans and get taken to the work. That could work with a "Guest Worker" type schedule, where they work for specified amounts of time -- two years? -- before they are cycled out again for the "down time." Then they are legitimate workers, documented and accounted for, covered by health care, taxed appropriately.

(via Patrick Ruffini)

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