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Farm Group: Trump Immigration Plans Could Disrupt Agriculture

Some farmers warn that deporting a big chunk of the farm industry's workforce could mean higher prices for produce, dairy products and meat. (
Some farmers warn that deporting a big chunk of the farm industry's workforce could mean higher prices for produce, dairy products and meat. (
December 22, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. — One of President-elect Donald Trump's campaign promises was to deport 11 million people who are undocumented. But some farm groups are saying, "Not so fast.”

According to The American Farm Bureau Federation, about half of all farm workers in this country are undocumented. The group has backed a plan to set up a visa program that would give people residency but not citizenship.

Steve Suppan, senior policy analyst at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, said the Farm Bureau has to walk a fine line, because its constituents are largely Republican, and they wouldn't support plans to make farm workers U.S. citizens.

"A very small needle has to be threaded between providing agribusiness what it wants and still somehow pretending to keep to the electoral pledge - the general idea of deporting the immigrants who are blamed for the loss of American employment,” Suppan said.

The American Farm Bureau has called for immigration reform, saying there needs to be a new, more flexible visa program that meets the needs of farmers and workers, and at the same time guarantees that the agricultural workforce is not subjected to mass deportation.

The industry depends on minimum wage or, in some cases, less-than-minimum-wage labor, Suppan said. But he expects there will be some deportations under a Trump administration.

"There are going to be, definitely, some fairly spectacular roundups, at least of the type that will show, you know, 'victory for America' - the immigrant-deportation variation of the 'Carrier saving 700 jobs,’” Suppan said. "So, I expect to see a fair amount of public-relations outreach concerning migrants."

To the argument that immigrants are taking Americans' jobs, Suppan said U.S. citizens haven't wanted to work in the farm industry - especially at the current wage which the USDA reports is on average, $10.80 an hour, and even less for undocumented workers.

"Let's say you take the wage up to an average of $15 an hour, and you include benefits,” Suppan said. "That changes the pricing structure of agriculture, and then becomes questionable whether, for example, the confined animal-feed operation business model is viable."

That's why some farmers warn that Trump's plan for mass deportations would lead to higher prices for fruits and vegetables, dairy products and meat.

More from Suppan on this issue is available here.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - NE