ENFIELD, CONN. — In testimony before Congress, Farm Credit East, the largest lender to Northeast agriculture, urged a workable guest worker program for agriculture and cautioned that an aggressive immigration enforcement program will cause farms to go out of business and reduce employment of U.S. citizens.
“We believe this is a jobs and food security issue” said Robert Smith, senior vice president with Farm Credit East. “If as a country we fail to find a workable solution to enable labor-intensive agriculture to maintain the necessary workforce, we will see another part of our economy move off-shore where barriers to entry for new agricultural enterprises are minimal. We need to ask ourselves – do we prefer to have our food produced domestically with the use of some foreign labor or in other countries with foreign labor for all of the jobs?”
As part of the testimony, Farm Credit East reported on a vulnerability assessment that the organization had prepared. The analysis indicates that a prolonged severe shortage in labor availability, as a result of effective immigration enforcement actions, without significantly improved agricultural worker programs, would impact 1,732 Northeast farms. These highly vulnerable farms would be forced to go out of business or severely cut back their operations due to a labor shortage. The highly vulnerable farms operate over 1.1 million acres of cropland.
These highly vulnerable farms have total sales of farm product in excess of $2.4 billion, approximately 36% of the value of the region’s agricultural output.
As a result of these highly vulnerable farms going out of business, approximately 20,212 full-time, year-round positions and 29,894 seasonal positions on farms would be eliminated. The reduction in the farm payrolls is estimated to be $528 million. This means significantly less spending and economic activity in local communities as funds generated do not churn through the economy as they currently do. Ultimately this will result in less employment in local businesses.
Furthermore, the analysis estimates that 55,311 off-farm jobs in agriculturally related businesses in the Northeast could be impacted. Many, if not most, of these positions are full-time jobs held by local citizens. These are positions with agricultural marketing and processing businesses, farm suppliers and farm service businesses.
In closing the Farm Credit East spokesman noted, “We support efforts to secure our nation’s borders and control entry of alien workers on America’s terms. A critical part of that solution is a workable program for agriculture that meets those objectives, while providing America’s farms with a reliable source of farm labor.”
Farm Credit East extends more than $4.3 billion in loans and has 19 local offices in its six-state service area. In addition to loans and leases, the organization also offers a full range of agriculturally specific financial services for businesses related to farming, horticulture, forestry and commercial fishing. Farm Credit East is governed by a 17-person board of directors from across the Northeast. For more information, go to FarmCreditEast.com.