click image to zoomVicky BoydHaving an adequate supply of legal workers is critical to the survival of specialty agriculture, panelists say.Panelists at Cornell University's Agribusiness Economic Outlook Conference agriculture presented a pessimistic prognosis for specialty agriculture unless immigration reform is passed before spring.
The Dec. 10 conference attracted 147 business leaders, agribusiness professions, policymakers, educators and farm managers to the Ithaca, N.Y., campus, according to a news release.
Panelist Maureen Torrey Marshall, whose family grows produce and operates a dairy in western New York, says she has waking nightmares about unpicked cabbage rotting in her family's fields.
“Instead of a thousand acres of vegetables, where 50 people are paid $2 million to harvest, you’ll see the same acreage in field corn with a $70,000 payroll” if labor shortages force growers to change crops, she said in the release.
Panelist Sarah Dressel, whose family grows fruit in the lower Hudson Valley, warned that hand-picked cosmetically perfect fruit will become a luxury as robotic picking machines replace the hand labor that her family can't find.
They urged the audience to keep the pressure on legislators about the need for more immigrant guest workers and overall immigration reform.
They also quashed the belief that guest workers are taking jobs away from out-of-work U.S. citizens, calling it "a laughable lie."
The Senate has passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act. But the House of Representatives has refused to consider the bill.
Unless the House can act on immigration reform before March or April, Thomas Maloney, a senior Extension associate in Cornell's department of applied economics and management, predicted it will be delayed until after 2014 elections.