Even before the coronavirus pandemic sharply curtained legal border crossings for seasonal workers, farmers were concerned that they would not have enough workers to plant and harvest crops.
Most farm work – particularly of delicate crops such as strawberries – is still very labor intensive, relying on a stream of seasonal worker, much of which comes from Mexico and other Latin American countries. Even where innovation has made greater automation possible, it is not an option for farmers who do not have the margins, particularly in this economic climate, to afford major investments.
If food is not planted in sufficient amounts to cover the market’s needs, food prices for consumers will rise. If the food cannot be harvested in a timely manner or some is lost to climate or weather conditions, there will be additional losses driving prices up even further.
Therefore, the need for adequate workers in the farming industry will have long-running impacts. Immigration regulations will need to be loose enough to cover for the lack of domestic workers in this area, and coronavirus containment procedures will need to be in place to prevent outbreaks among the migrant worker population, many of whom live in cramped temporary housing where social distancing is not possible and sanitation conditions are typically not optimal.
Current efforts to increase processing of H-2A temporary guest worker visas will help as it is something that many growers have been asking for. The suggestion from the Trump administration to reduce wages for foreign guest farm workers is more controversial, however, and has been met with resistance from immigrant and labor advocates as well as advocates of immigration restriction.
For more information, see our sister publisher Packaged Facts’ coverage of the food industry. Relevant information from The Freedonia Group includes our Global Food Processing Machinery report, which also includes COVID-19 market impact analysis. Freedonia Custom Research is also available for questions requiring tailored market intelligence.