According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, there are over 2.4 million farm jobs that need to be filled annually, but there is a drastic decline in available workers each and every year. Over 73 percent of farm workers are immigrants, mostly from Mexico and South America.
Although the H2-A program has been increasing the number of accepted applications, the 250,000 farm workers it allows into the country each year don’t do enough to fill the labor needs. Almost 50 percent of immigrant farm workers do not have legal authorization to work. According to the USDA, authorized immigrant workers make up about 20 percent of farm labor.
It is difficult to hire workers in the agricultural industry because the average wage is only 60% of other industries. Although farm wages have been rising, especially because the H-2A program requires wages to be higher than the state/federal minimum wage, farm operators have little leeway to pay employees more wages.
It is estimated that labor has already spent 25% or more of the income of fruit and vegetable growers; any increase in farm wages means that the operator’s already small income will decrease. Reduced labor supply and increased consumer demand have led to changes in production.
Farm labor, food prices, and new technology are all interconnected when it comes to the future of agriculture in the United States. Solutions to one issue may impact another, sometimes negatively and other times positively.