More Damning Evidence that Agriculture’s "Labor Shortage" Is a Myth

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By Joe Guzzardi

Joe is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow whose commentaries about California's social issues have run in newspapers throughout California and the country for nearly 30 years. Contact Joe at joeguzzardi@capsweb.org, or find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

The writer's views are his own.

September 27, 2012

In June, I wrote a CAPS homepage column titled Record Profits Expose Ag Industry’s Bogus “Rotting “  Claims .

I addressed what has been the non-stop annual barrage from the agriculture industry’s leaders complaining that an insufficient labor pool---meaning that growers want more cheap guest workers---has devastated crop production. But the facts belie the growers’ assessment and ignore the industry’s fiscal eye-popping soundness.

From my column:

“Farm profits rose 24.1 percent last year, to $98.1 billion. Cash income, the barometer of farm solvency, rose 17.8 percent to $108.7. Agricultural exports topped $137 billion. Crop receipts rose 16 percent. Livestock sales receipts averaged 17 percent higher than in 2010.

“Carney’s story included references to farmers in Illinois and Iowa who are so flush they prepaid for next year’s tractor installments and their equipment. A University of Nebraska agricultural economist called these ‘the best of times.’”

CNBC News’ senior editor John Carney has done extensive leg work to uncover the truth about agriculture’s economic health and, as a result of his findings, wonders why the mainstream media keeps publishing the same crop rotting stories when no evidence of a shortage exists.

Carney continues on the task of exposing the dual agriculture deceit that crops are rotting and that labor is scarce. In his latest exposé, Carney found that in California and Washington, two states that purported to be suffering the most severe lack of workers, net cash income rose in 2011 from 2010’s record high of $99.4 billion to $134.7 billion, a new record. The $35.3 billion increase represents a staggering 35.5 percent profit growth. Individually, Washington farm profits rose 58 percent; in California, 45 percent.

Even though  six months remain before the 2013 growing season begins, the Western Growers Association already nonsensically predicts that next year’s labor shortage will be the most acute in its history.

Carney immediately debunked the growers claim. First, Carney stated that if farms couldn’t find labor, their costs would be soaring. Instead, the opposite is taking place:

“The costs of workers hired directly by the farms didn’t grow at all between 2010 and 2011, according to the latest data from the Department of Agriculture. It contracted 3.8 percent, from $23.5 billion to $22.6 billion. Next year it is forecast by the Department of Agriculture to shrink by another 2.1 percent. In light of the rising revenues and profits of farms, this is not a labor market experiencing a worker shortage.”

In California, where panicked speculation about “who will pick the crops?” is higher than in any other state, hired labor costs fell 12 percent in 2010 from $6.2 billion to $5.4 billion. [Phony Farm Labor Shortage, We Need to Talk About It, by John Carney, CNBC.com, September 20, 2012]

Last year, despite all the talk of a California picker shortage, hired labor costs dropped from $6.2 billion to $5.4 billion—a 12 percent fall.

Reporters have a professional responsibility to seek out and write the truth. There have been thousands of quasi-public relations generated stories about the supposed agricultural crisis---rotting and labor shortages---without a single investigative report (save Carney’s) that inform readers.

Little wonder that a 2012 Gallup Poll found that only about 25 percent of readers, half of the 1979 level, have confidence in newspapers.

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