Wineries Face a Predictable Labor Shortage

vineyard workersAs I travel throughout America’s wine regions,  I keep hearing about this looming labor shortage that has wineries concerned about the upcoming harvest:

Research by the Farm Bureau suggests that the federal immigration policy Trump is promoting could result in a massive farm labor shortage across the country, causing domestic fruit output to plunge anywhere from 30 to 61 percent and vegetable production to fall by 15 to 31 percent. Industrial-scale livestock operations and slaughterhouses also rely heavily on immigrants, so meat production could tumble by as much as 27 percent. As a result, the group concludes, US eaters are looking at food price hikes of 5 to 6 percent.

The problem is not just high prices. The timing of harvest is crucial for wineries since wine grapes must be picked when ready. Without reliable labor to pick fruit, rot, rain, early frost and over-ripeness will harm quality, not to mention the amount of fruit that will just go to waste imperiling winery profits.

The farm bureau reports that  for harvest up to 2.2 million farm workers are needed across the country. At least half of these mostly immigrant workers will lack legal status. And this is work most U.S. born Americans won’t do. When Trump’s winery put out a call for workers, not one U.S.-born person was among the 13 applicants.

All of this was of course predictable since many states have enacted anti-immigrant legislation and suffered as a result:

Just after taking office that winter, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill that, he vowed, would “crack down on the influx of illegal immigrants into our state.” Known in civil-liberties circles as Georgia’s racial-profiling law, House Bill 87 encouraged local police officers to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of violating any regulation, including traffic rules, and imposed harsh penalties on anyone caught “harboring an illegal alien.” The governor probably didn’t intend for his signature immigration law to cost his state’s farm sector loads of cash. But his timing couldn’t have been worse. A shortfall of 11,000 workers—representing about 85 percent of peak employment—caused $75 million in crop losses that spring alone, with a total hit to the state economy of $103.6 million that season, according to a study by the University of Georgia. Neighboring Alabama passed an even more draconian law later that year, spurring its immigrant farmworkers to exit en masse and costing the state up to 6 percent of its gross domestic product.

Instead of rousting immigrants we should be celebrating their willingness to work hard and the contributions they make to society.

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