Arkansas presents an example of the strained availability of laborers for the agricultural industry across the nation.
The 2014 farm sector is struggling. This is the fifth or sixth year in a row in which laborers are scarce, even with weak crops from erratic weather and growing conditions. Over the years, average crops have also diminished in size in response to a shrinking labor pool of immigrants.
Immigrant laborers work incredibly hard in American fields every year. Many blame immigrants for taking away potential American jobs, but U.S. agricultural employers cannot currently hire locally — not enough people want to do the work. Few American citizens would choose a career in crop work, and the jobs remain empty.
So, most farmers hire seasonal workers through the H-2A program. Employers using this route must prove they cannot hire locally before bringing in immigrants to work in temporary jobs.
In Arkansas, the farming community has spoken out, claiming that they are losing $320 million and at least 22 days of farming each year due to lack of workforce. Farmers are saying that they cannot farm without the help of migrant labor. Even with current immigrant help, many landowners are farming less than half of their holdings.
As such, many farmers want to make it easier for immigrants who want work to come into the country. Seasonal laborers, who work in the fields for an average of eight months a year, put in 70 hours a week for about $9.83 an hour. In order to get workers, Arkansas farmers are saying they have to jump through many hoops that cost them time and money. If the hiring process were easier, things would move more smoothly.
The poultry industry is also experience a shortfall. Caretakers are warning the nation that without immigration reform, they too face a labor shortage which will ultimately raise food prices.
Some politicians claim that immigration reform would take agricultural and livestock husbandry jobs from American citizens, but farmers argue that few citizens are interested in the work. And crops will not wait for political reform.