Labor Study Shows Impacts of Immigration Reform on Ag Economy

Farm Bureau study finds up to 6% food price increase with immigration plan focused solely on enforcement

Published on: Feb 11, 2014

A report commissioned by the American Farm Bureau and a coalition of other groups advocating for labor reform has found that as much as a 6% increase in food prices could be possible if immigration policies rely solely on enforcement.

The report, "Gauging the Farm Sector's Sensitivity to Immigration Reform," was conducted by the World Agricultural Economic and Environmental Services. It's part of a month-long #ifarmimmigration push by AFBF and the Partnership for a New American Economy.

According to the report, in addition to an up to 6% increase in food prices, an enforcement only immigration reform plan would also cut the nation's food and fiber production by as much as $60 billion.

Study finds up to 6% food price increase with immigration plan focused solely on enforcement
Study finds up to 6% food price increase with immigration plan focused solely on enforcement

The hardest-hit domestic food sectors under an enforcement-only scenario are fruit production, which would plummet by 30% to 61%, and vegetable production, which would decline by 15% to 31%, the study finds.

Related: Ag Groups Put Pressure On Immigration Issue, But House Uneasy

The study also pointed out that while the fruit and vegetable sector would suffer, livestock production in the U.S. would also fall by 13% to 27%.

"Over five years, an enforcement-only approach would lead to losses in farm income large enough to trigger large scale restructuring of the sector, higher food prices, and greater dependence on imported products," says AFBF President Bob Stallman.

AFBF suggests that the best option, as the study shows, is a redesigned guest worker program and the opportunity for skilled laborers currently working in agriculture to earn an adjustment of status.

Under that scenario, AFBF adds, there would be little to no effect on food prices, and the impact on farm income would be less than 1%.

"Status quo is not a viable option for anyone involved in this issue, and as a nation, we expect better," Stallman says. "With a reworked guest worker program, and by allowing skilled laborers to earn an adjustment of status, food prices remain stable and there are only marginal impacts on production."

Stallman last week reiterated those concerns in an op-ed for The Hill, noting, "For all of us worried about securing our borders, one of the best ways to improve border security is to create a legal, workable way for farm workers to enter our country. With less time and resources wasted locking up lettuce harvesters, the focus can shift to where it properly belongs – keeping those with criminal intentions out of our country.

"Although the specific labor needs of farmers across our nation vary, we will all benefit from agricultural labor reform. We need a solution that addresses agriculture’s unique labor needs with a market-based, flexible agricultural worker program, which reflects real-life workforce challenges for all crop and livestock farmers."

The immigration study also compared changes in farm output, commodity prices, farm income, farm asset values, and food prices across four generic reform alternatives. Download it from the AFBF Website: Gauging the Farm Sector's Sensitivity to Immigration Reform.