What's Wrong With This?

Western Ag Vignettes

People don't like to work in ag labor, but maybe they might.

Published on: August 19, 2013

Maybe it is just me. Has anyone else wondered why we need immigration reform to entice out-of-country workers to the farm when many of our citizens of the U.S. in the low income echelon are looking for work?

I know the answer is, of course, that most of the denizens of this nation find farm labor jobs too difficult for them to perform. That's been a social dilemma for lots of years, and one we can consider axiomatic in the social fabric.

It creates a gap that has become accepted between available farm work and our unemployed. Nobody appears to be saying anything about bringing our people into these labor positions, and that's because the workers would object. Likewise, farmers with bad experiences trying to trail reluctant citizen workers balk at the idea of bringing more of this alternative force  onto their operations.

What is needed is a Rooseveltian concept to add pay incentives to the minimum wage farm jobs most applicants face when starting out. Such a federal program may be a better place to put the money immigration reform would require into better use domestically. Now, even if you are a Republican, you must admit this idea has a successful sound when you consider it would employ those on welfare and  help our agricultural community in the process.

Such a project should  be attached to a worker trainer program to weed out those who  can't face farm jobs for one reason or another. When such training is over,   the worker delivered to the farm  would be more to the liking of the producer.

This is an emergency concept, with broad links to food security, the economy and ag sustainability that might be labeled the Farmworker Corps. Sound like something from the Great Depression? Sure does, and with good reason.  Our economy is headed toward even greater dark days as more unemployed give up looking for work.  Great urgency overshadows criticism in finding solutions. It is time for new paradigms.

In my volunteer work with Salvation Army, I see an increasing need for food and housing to help those out of work. All such help programs are stretched beyond their limits to help as those lines at their office doors get longer.

When I go to a farm orchard or vineyard where a grower is concerned about labor availability, I can't help but wondering why common solutions to both problems are not explored.

Indeed, many details to be worked through if such a Farmworker Corps is to become a reality. Foremost would be creating incentives for the program to succeed, and how training and pay subsidies would be financed.

Under a new Farm Bill, certain funds could be earmarked for training, and funding of some research with marginal returns to the industry  could be redirected into the pay envelope.

The U.S. Department of Labor, which has money to bolster the work force, could also be called upon to  contribute to the effort.

Let's talk about it at least, and see if there is merit in the concept.