Saturday, March 4, 2017

From drought to harvest: Trump's immigration policies threaten the U.S. farming industry

A Los Angeles Times article caught my attention last week with the headline: "In the Central Valley, drought fears ease, but farmers contend with a new threat: Trump." The author of the article, Robin Abcarian, reported from an interview with farmer Joe Del Bosque. Bosque, a Firebaugh farmer, grows almonds, melons, and asparagus on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.

I grew up in the Central Valley--specifically, Fresno and Clovis. Kindergarten through ninth grade, I attended a small private school. Because not many division-5 schools exist in the greater Fresno area, our athletics teams traveled to small rural towns (including Firebaugh) for "away" games. This blog previously discussed rural athletics here. About an hour outside of Fresno, Firebaugh is located on the west side of the San Joaquin River. After talking with friends, I realize most people have never heard of Firebaugh. Here is a link to some general information about the city. 

On January 17, 2014, the Governor of California, Jerry Brown, declared the drought a state of emergency. It was easy to forget about the drought when I was attending college a few miles from Newport Beach. Yet, when I visited home, I was abruptly reminded of the drought's effects every time I drove down the Grapevine. Here are some images of the extreme draught conditions in California, visualized by comparing the same locations on July 20, 2011 and August 19, 2014. 

This blog has previously discussed the effects of the California drought (see here, here, and here). In light of the storms California experienced this winter, many (myself included) find themselves wondering: is the drought over? According to U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the answer requires an analysis of California's three primary sources of water: surface water, snowpack, and groundwater. 

Precipitation in 2017 has filled the majority of California's major reservoirs to above-historic average levels. As the USGS "streamgage network" illustrates, flows in the majority of the streams have been at or above average for most of the last 4 months. This indicates that California's surface water levels (such as rivers, creeks, lakes, and reservoirs) are in good condition. According to the California Data Exchange Center, as of today, statewide snow accumulation data indicate that snowpack in the Northern, Central, and Southern Sierra is 183 percent of normal for this date. Groundwater aquifers, however, recover at a much slower pace than surface water, and the long-term impacts of the drought on groundwater have not been remedied by the recent weather. If complete groundwater recovery is possible, it will likely take many years to accomplish

While recent rainfall eased Central Valley farmers' concerns about a successful grow year, farmers now fear having adequate labor forces for the upcoming harvest. Using less than one percent of farmland in the United States, the Central Valley supplies eight percent of the nation's agricultural output and produces a quarter of the nation's food, including forty percent of the nation's fruits, nuts, and other table foods. 

Many farmers across the the country have expressed concerns about President Trump's immigration policies and threats of mass deportation annihilating their workforce. See these similar commentaries by NPR, Vanity Fair, CNN, and The Huffington Post

California agriculture simply could not work without migrant farmworkers. Commenting on migrant labor in the Central Valley, Del Bosque said
When I start harvesting my melons, I need 300 people. And there’s like six other melon guys who need 300 people, and one probably needs 900. So we need around 3,000 people to harvest. Then, the tomato guys need people, the grape guys need people and the garlic guys need people. There are not enough people in these little towns for that seasonal surge in labor needs. That’s why we’re dependent on people who come from somewhere else.
The Labor Department estimates that over half of the 2.5 million farmworkers are undocumented workers. Bruce Goldstein, the executive director of Farmworker Justice, a nonprofit advocacy group that works to empower migrant and seasonal farmworkers, reported to The Huffington Post:
These threats of deportation are causing [migrant farmers] great anxiety. Farmworkers and their children are aware of these discussions and it makes them fearful for what’s going to happen. It would deprive them of jobs, split up their families and subject them to great harm.
In 2014, Del Bosque, known on Twitter as @WestsideFarmer, tweeted an invitation at President Obama after learning that he planned to visit the Central Valley. President Obama accepted Del Bosque's invitation and, along with Governor Brown, visited Del Bosque Farms for a discussion about the California drought. Now, Del Bosque is considering tweeting an invitation to @RealDonaldTrump (President Trump) to visit his farm to engage in dialogue about immigration.

My favorite memories of growing up in the Central Valley are summer days. My mom would take my sister and me to the local strawberry field by our house in Clovis to buy freshly picked strawberries. If President Trump visited Fresno in the summer and watched the migrant farmers working hard in 115 degree heat, would he still think Mexicans are “taking our manufacturing jobs” and “killing us?”


Anne Badasci said...

This article raises some really similar concerns that I've been thinking about in the wake of all this rain. I've seen a ton of people sharing articles about "the end of the drought" lately, and it's been driving me nuts! That's a really short-sighted view of the problem underlying the drought--we may have had a lot more rain this year, but that definitely doesn't change the fact that we just don't have the full amount of infrastructure necessary to hold onto that rain for when we do need it later. I worked at the Farm Bureau for a semester, and one of the projects while I was there was trying to get the Legislature to free up some of the money from the 2014 Water Bond--money that was specifically earmarked for dam construction, and that has yet to get disbursed. These political machinations are a large part of the problem, but public opinion that doesn't reflect an accurate diagnosis of the water problem is a huge issue too.

Kyle said...

This piece highlights the deep-seated contradiction in U.S. immigration policy generally -- the current president merely shines a brighter light on the tension. Today, we grant visas to about 60,000 seasonal agricultural workers per year. Since 1986, we have had sanctions for employers who hire undocumented workers, but these rules have been enforced sporadically (falling to complete non-enforcement during the middle of the Bush 43 presidency). Since 1996, we have increased the civil and criminal penalties for unlawful entry. Yet we want dollar-menu fast food and cut-rate motel rooms and a variety of other goods and services at prices that are clearly untenable without the use of unauthorized labor.

Past administrations were content with hand-wringing and speechifying. However much Congress may (or may not...) corral him in other policy arenas, Trump has significant latitude to implement his vision for immigration enforcement. As he does so, the hypocrisy of our migrant-industrial complex will be laid bare. The revelation may foment a more sincere discussion of these policy trade-offs, though the process will be painful in many ways.