By Joe Guzzardi
June 15, 2012
I recently returned from San Francisco where the number one stop on my visit was the Saturday morning Farmers Market at the Ferry Plaza.
Forget Fisherman’s Wharf, the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. The most spectacular San Francisco tourist attraction is the Farmers Market especially in June, the peak season for cherries, blueberries, peaches and every imaginable type of produce. The word that best describes the market is “abundant.”
I’m a native Californian. I know that despite years of agriculture industry wolf cries that “crops will rot in the field” unless Congress authorizes more alien labor through a guest worker amnesty, nothing—except perhaps a tomato in your neighbor’s home garden— has perished. Yields have been plentiful without an amnesty.
Last year, Alabama passed strong immigration enforcement legislation which set off a round of carping that no workers would be available to pick the crops. Critics predictably called HB 56 not only racist but also a bill that turned the clock back to the 1950s and Rosa Parks. But the law was written and passed at—Alabamans’ urging. Many aliens including field workers and poultry processors self-deported, thus fulfilling one of the bill’s objectives.
But, despite their panicked mode, employers were hardly left holding the bag. Instead, they hired American workers. After illegal alien employees left, Marshall County organized a successful jobs fair. The line of eager applicants, according to City Councilman Bob Ellis, “was probably equivalent to a couple of blocks … It was a largely Anglo and black group,” but also included Hispanics, he added.
In neighboring Georgia another immigration enforcement bill, HB 87, created a similar fuss. Dick Minor, president of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, said that immigrants “are pretty much professional harvesters” with many specializing in particular crops.
As with Alabama, when left to find a solution other than cheap immigrant labor Georgia looked close to home.
Growers turned to the prison system to find pickers for its Vidalia onion crop. Farmer Wayne Durrence summarized the experiment: "They’ve worked out real good. Some of them even said when they get out, they may come back and work for me, you know maybe next year. They have really worked out good."
The biggest joke is that despite the nationwide claims of insufficient labor and without a shred of evidence that crops are rotting or that any produce shortage exists, the media cranks out the same boilerplate stories year after year. Investigative journalism must be a thing of the past—except at CNBC News where senior editor John Carney exposed the ongoing ag sham with a devastating report of the industries record-breaking 2011 income.
The numbers: 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.”
As Abraham Lincoln said: “You can fool some of the people all of the time.” By “people,” Lincoln must have meant reporters.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. His columns have been syndicated since 1986. Contact him at [email protected].