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US farm labor shortage drives up wages and demand for foreign produce

US agri companies are relying more and more on imported fruits and vegetables. It is due in part to the ongoing labor shortage in agriculture. Two-thirds of the crop production workforce in America is immigrant labor, but while demand for fresh fruit and vegetables has increased over the years, supply of workers has grown stagnant.

Andrew Lim, the director of Quantitative Research: "A lot of it has to do with aging. So, a lot of older workers who have traditionally worked on farms, they're getting older, they're retiring. It's hard labor, it's hard work, and more importantly they're not being replaced by younger people who are interested in this kind of work. So, what we are seeing is that the supply of labor is not only not keeping up with demand, it's expected to decrease which has serious implications for the industry."

One of those implications is an increasing reliance on imported produce. Lim says that imports have doubled over the past 20 years, especially for crops that have to be picked by hand. To fill the gap, the number of H-2A visas has nearly tripled over the last 20 years, but last year, there were around 45,000 requests for workers that were left unfilled.

According to Lim, this is a sign the program needs to be reformed.


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