Immigration laws squeeze cherry, grape farmers; Mike Johanns

Various newspapers have printed an infinite series of propaganda featuring various growers complaining about how their crops are rotting in the fields because of a lack of cheap foreign serf labor. Even Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns recently got into the act.

First, the article "Grape growers squeezed" from the San Francisco Business Times contains this:
"[The claimed labor shortage is a result of] those crazy Minutemen and now the National Guard," [Joseph Ramazzotti, owner of Ramazzotti Vineyards & Wines in Geyserville] said of increasing border patrols.
Oddly enough, the article "Pick your theory, but valley is short of cherry harvesters" by Michael Rose of the Oregon Statesman Journal contains something similar:
The worker shortage has left [cherry farmer Terry Drazdoff] exasperated -- and time isn't on his side. He also is railing at the government's decision to put National Guard troops on the Mexican border to prevent illegal immigration.
It also contains this no-it's-not-The-Onion quote from Drazdoff:
"Why did President Bush do this before harvest?"
While the article - like all of the rest in this series - assumes that illegal immigration is acceptable, it isn't 100% a puff piece. And, it does contain this:
Back at Drazdoff's farm, the farmer might soon have to decide between shifting to mechanical harvest and letting his crop rot. The migrant workers, who have brought in the harvest at his farm for decades, might be permanently replaced by picking machines.
Wouldn't that be better overall? Shouldn't that be something our politicians - elected to represent American interests - should be promoting instead of cheap foreign serf labor? Unfortunately, the Bush administration and most of Congress put the interests of cherry growers ahead of the interests of everyone else. A case in point:
Speaking to family farmers and farm leaders [on June 9] at the California Farm Bureau Federation, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said he is encouraged by the positive steps made toward national immigration reform and believes a comprehensive, bipartisan bill will emerge from a House-Senate negotiations process.

Johanns' visit to the Farm Bureau was the last stop during a two-day swing through California to rouse support for comprehensive immigration reform, an approach favored by the president. Earlier that day, he toured a cherry-packing facility in Stockton. He also spoke to a group of farm leaders in Fresno the previous day.

...Johanns said a comprehensive approach will assure border security.

"How are you going to have effective border control if you don't have a comprehensive plan?" he asked. "How are you to have effective border control if you say to California farmers, 'We know if you don't get labor, you're not going to get your crops in, but so what?' Is that effective?
Our elected leaders enforcing our laws is the only way we could have border security. Johanns' statement is essentially blackmail: the Bush administration will only enforce laws if the laws are changed to suit it. And, of course, there's absolutely no guarantee that Bush would enforce the changed laws. People like Johanns would be trotted out to explain why the changed laws would have to be changed again before they would be enforced.
[there's a "growing labor crisis"; pimps AgJOBS; Johanns explains how the amnesty scheme isn't amnesty: amnesty must involve "someone waving a magic wand"...]

At OG Packing in Stockton, Johanns got a firsthand look at some of the challenges California producers face during their height of production. Tom Gotelli, whose family farms cherries and operates the packing facility, led the secretary through the plant where workers were washing, sorting and packaging the very labor-intensive crop.

"There's no better example of the need for immigration reform than right here at this facility," Johanns said to a group of reporters after touring the packinghouse. "This plant is here because of labor. You take the labor out of the equation, and you've got a very serious problem. But that could be said about anybody who is in this business."
I have little doubt that a good portion of that cheap labor could be automated away. Instead of importing a foreign serf class, we could build and export cherry machines. Or, we could just leave the cherry "industry" out to twist in the wind, letting them know that there are things that are much more important.
He noted that while immigration reform is a big issue to California, "it's not an issue unique to California." As former governor of Nebraska, Johanns said he saw how the immigration issue affected beef producers in a state that does not border another country.
That's about all I'm going to quote. For more on Johanns, see Ag Sec'y nominee "Fought to Protect Giant Meatpackers from Immigration Law Enforcement"

Previously in this series: "Allied Grape Growers admits using illegal alien labor; McCain, Johanns".


I do not know of economist George Valois who said, back in the 20s-30s that given human tendency to laziness, owners would not innovate unless forced to do so by high labor costs. As that Indian lady said "why should I get a washing machine when I can get a maid to do the laundry for next to nothing"?

To maintain this status quo out of supposed respect for the maid forgets about the workers in the washing machine factory.

So, in the interests of economic grown and diversification, I support efforts to raise the minimum wage, because as Jean Francos Revel put it, the fastest road to porverty is to refuse the efficiency of mechanization to continue relying on cheap abundant labor.

"Back at Drazdoff's farm, the farmer might soon have to decide between shifting to mechanical harvest and letting his crop rot. The migrant workers, who have brought in the harvest at his farm for decades, might be permanently replaced by picking machines.
Wouldn't that be better overall?"

Yes, indeed, LoneWacko, it would. Australia has been using machinery to pick grapes for some time.

Machinery can't be joined by its immediate family nor can it bring the rest in via family re-unification. Bringing in unskilled guest workers from third world countries who can then stay in a highly developed country if they choose and bring in family as well has to be the most expensive way to hire unskilled labor in the world.

Great post, dchamil.

Economics 101 reveals that supply and demand is alive and well -- the supply of labor depends very much on the price offered. There may very well be a shortage of cherry-pickers at the price the grower would like to pay, but that is very different. Ignoring the influence of price is cherry-picking your facts, Mr. Johanns.