Good Fruit Grower

May 1

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8 MAY 1, 2015 Good Fruit Grower U .S. agriculture is competing with Mexican farms for a dwindling supply of farm labor. Mexican agriculture is doing quite well and needs more workers than are available, as the supply of Mexican workers willing to do farm work is declining. Mexican farmers are importing labor from further south in Central America, but that labor pool is small. With strong demand for farm workers in Mexico, there's less need for them to move north across a hostile and hazardous border. In fact, a new study suggests there are more people returning to Mexico than are coming to the United States. For several years, U.S. fruits and vegetable growers have been noticing an ever-increasing shortage of sea- sonal farm labor for crop harvest. They have associated it with the events in the United States—the post 9/11 tight- ening of the border with Mexico and increased enforce- ment of laws intended to crack down on an estimated 12 million workers who are in the United States illegally. In a paper entitled "The End of Farm Labor Abundance," University of California-Davis agricultural economists suggest the problem is more complicated and will not be easily solved, even if immigration laws were reformed by a so-far-unwilling Congress and even with less harsh enforcement by the Obama Administration. They say that changes occurring in Mexico—the long-time source of seasonal farm labor in the United States—are drying up the pool of workers willing to do agricultural work. Diane Charlton, a graduate student at UC-Davis and one of the paper's authors, told Good Fruit Grower that the farm-labor supply in Mexico is falling at a rate of about 0.9 percent per year, and has been for some time. There are about 16 million working-age adults in rural Mexico, so the decline amounts to more than 100,000 workers a year. Not surprisingly, U.S. growers are reporting coming up short of workers by 10 to 15 percent. Charlton is a grad student of Dr. J. Edward Taylor, who is associ- ated with the Center for Rural Poverty and the Center for Immigration Studies. In this study, they did surveys of rural households in Mexico, returning to the same households in 2002, 2007, and 2010 to fi nd out what work household members were doing. "The same shift out of farm work that characterized U.S. labor history is well under way in Mexico," they wrote. "Worldwide, people transition out of farm work when better oppor- tunities are available," Charlton said. "Eventually, countries reach this level, and it pulls people out of agriculture. That is happening in Mexico right now." Four forces At least four things are contributing to that: First, she said, "the non-farm economy in Mexico is doing quite well." For about 25 years, Mexico has made a concerted effort to develop bilat- eral trade agreements with other countries, in an effort to boost capital investment in Mexico and create more jobs. Mexico has been quite successful doing that in automobile manufacturing and other industries. Second, she said, young Mexicans are becoming better educated, so they are looking for better jobs and are less interested in farm work. Third, the size of Mexican families is rapidly getting smaller. Instead of seven children, families are now having two children. There are just fewer young Mexicans. And fourth, the agricultural economy of Mexico is doing well. The growing consumption of, and year-round demand for, fresh fruits and vegetables in the United States has created a booming market for Mexican growers capitalizing on their warmer climate, long growing season, and closeness to the United States. That is not to say events in the United States, and at the border, have had no effect. Tighter border enforcement and drug-related violence in the border towns are reducing the back-and-forth fl ow of farm workers, but recession in the United States after 2008 and improving job opportunities in Mexico also reduced the fl ow. "Net migration declined to zero in 2010 and maybe to less than zero," Charlton said. "More people are returning to Mexico than are coming here." LABOR changes Labor Changes in Mexico are reducing the pool of workers available to U.S. growers. by Richard Lehnert Immigrants from Central America travel north. Mexico is in a transitional phase where it exports farm labor to the United States while it simultaneously imports farm labor from Central America.

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