California farmers bemoan loss of illegal alien workers, robots

So we’re at least all in agreement that the steep decline in illegal alien border crossings from Mexico since Trump took office is a good thing, right? Don’t be silly. There is no argument, debate or policy point put forward by conservatives where you can’t find at least some liberals willing to kvetch over it and illegal immigration is no exception. Out in California, farmers growing fruits and vegetables are increasingly upset at the prospect of having to either upgrade to robotic technology or offer higher wages and benefits to get their crops picked. The story begins with a discussion of “AgroBot,” a contraption in use at Driscoll’s farms which picks strawberries.(LA Times)

AgroBot is still more John Deere than C-3PO — a boxy contraption moving in fits and starts, with its computer-driven sensors, graspers and cutters missing 1 in 3 berries.

Such has been the progress of ag-tech in California, where despite the adoption of drones, iPhone apps and satellite-driven sensors, the hand and knife still harvest the bulk of more than 200 crops.

Here’s a refreshing twist to the story which ICE might want to look into. The LA Times has actually found an executive at a company that supplies labor to agricultural interests who is willing to come out on the record and admit that the industry has been knowingly hiring illegal aliens and participating in a scheme involving forged documents. (Emphasis added)

We’ve been masking this problem all these years with a system that basically allowed you to accept fraudulent documents as legal, and that’s what has been keeping this workforce going,” said Steve Scaroni, whose Fresh Harvest company is among the biggest recruiters of farm labor. “And now we find out we don’t have much of a labor force up here, at least a legal one.”

Stated bluntly, there aren’t enough new immigrants for the state’s nearly half-million farm labor jobs — especially as Mexico creates competing manufacturing jobs in its own cities, Taylor said. He has calculated that the pool of potential immigrants from rural Mexico shrinks every year by about 150,000 people.

You’ll notice how the LA Times once again chooses to disingenuously use the phrase, there aren’t enough new immigrants when what they actually mean is that there aren’t enough illegal aliens. In a number of columns here over the years I have repeatedly stated that one surefire way to reduce the number of illegal aliens coming to the country would be to divert some resources away from arresting the actual workers and begin prosecuting the CEOs of the major companies who employ or recruit them. As soon as that happened the jobs would dry up overnight and the incentive to cross the border would be vastly diminished.

Now you’ve got a potential candidate for this bold plan, or at least somebody who probably knows enough to bring down the perpetrators. Steve Scaroni is one of the principals of SFC, the Scaroni Family of Companies. They employ more than 3,000 workers in that region and right on their front page they brag about their participation in the H-2A guest worker program. But it certainly sounds from this interview like Steve is aware that either he or his competitors are accepting fraudulent documents as legal in their organizations. Perhaps ICE would like to have a chat with him.

So what are the farmers to do if the supply of illegal aliens is drying up? The robots they’ve developed for picking more fragile crops aren’t up to speed yet, but they are better than they used to be. Necessity is the mother of invention, and that progress would continue if the demand is there. And as the Times article notes, other competitors are already offering higher wages and even health care and other benefits to attract workers. Believe me… if you offer a good enough deal you will find citizens willing to do the work. Combing better compensation packages with improved technology to make the work less onerous would eventually solve the problem in a free labor market. Does that mean that we’ll be paying a bit more for a salad? Maybe. But that’s how the market works.

Progress is being made in fighting illegal immigration. The agricultural industry is simply going to need to keep up with the times and adapt.

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