Trump’s Deportation Strategy Might Accidentally Destroy American Agriculture

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If there’s one thing everybody can relate to, it’s the price of food. Stability of food and low food prices are often a backbone of economic success. But one unintended consequence of Trump’s deportation plans might be that buying your food from American farmers might be too expensive.

Vanity Fair has a good overview of the problem, which essentially boils down to farmers facing a labor crunch. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that farm wages rose 36% between 2006 and 2016, compared to 27% for non-farm labor. Part of this is because it’s hard to automate dairy production and picking produce; human labor is cheaper and more effective, something unlikely to change in the near future.

Aggravating the problem is that the farming industry is just now seeing rock bottom in a recession. Corn, soybeans and other crops have been caught between sinking prices and rising wage costs. The price drops have been driven largely a glut of product in the first place thanks to imported produce and grains.

As a result, the farm industry tends to rely on immigrant labor, documented and otherwise. It’s estimated that a quarter of farming employees are undocumented. Ironically, even in the midst of record deportations, an Obama administration study found that deportation of a significant number of workers would drive farm wages even higher, as dramatic a rise as 40%.

The response, of course, is that Americans should do these jobs, but past attempts to remove undocumented immigrants in states such as Alabama and Georgia have revealed that farmers simply can’t find people willing to do the work. The majority of Americans live in cities, and there would have to be a substantial increase in wages to even cover the costs of heading into the country to work. And, for that matter, this raises the question of where, precisely, these workers might be found. Many economists believe the US is at full employment, and farm labor is physically strenuous work and, for that matter, skilled labor.

And as wages are driven up, it’ll make many farms less competitive with, ironically, Mexican agriculture. Supermarkets would simply begin importing more produce instead of buying American, already a concern among American farmers. Long term, farmers would potentially be put out of business, and all this assumes that important factors like weather patterns will remain the same. Scientists are concerned that climate change would cause a second dust bowl.

Everything, in America, is connected; you can’t tug on one thread without unraveling bits in unexpected places. And if the Trump administration isn’t careful, it’ll wind up dealing a severe blow to an industry in need of help.