Tuesday, November 16, 2010 by Kathy Means
The dollars and cents of produce labor
Last week USDA’s Economic Research Service released a report on labor and the produce industry. The authors, ERS ag economist Linda Calvin and University of California – Davis professor Philip Martin, looked at case studies, mechanization, supply chain efficiency options and more. Recognizing that labor is not a one-size-fits-all proposition, the authors examined issues related to several key produce commodities: Washington fresh-market apples, Florida processing oranges, California fresh-market oranges and strawberries, raisins, fresh-market asparagus, and lettuce. The report also offers statistics on labor, acreage planted, per-capita consumption, imports, and more.
The insights are best when taken in context of the full report – so I encourage you to take a look at it. The authors found three major adjustments to rising labor costs based on their case studies:
- Some crops have adopted mechanized harvesting, and that would increase if wages rise. Though they review some processed crops (raisins, and Florida oranges) they also note the mechanization advances in baby lettuces.
- Growers of unmechanized commodities that face import pressures as well will likely lose more market share as labor costs rise. And those that face stiff competition in export markets also may lose market share.
- For growers of unmechanized crops that do not face import pressures likely will provide workers with labor aids to increase productivity, and they may also pursue mechanization.
The report does discuss the quality issues around mechanical harvesting, cost of labor in the United States compared to other countries, and statistics about undocumented workers.
Labor is a huge input cost for our industry and a direct influencer of product quality. PMA supports the AgJOBS proposal as a way to improve the labor situation in the United States. For more, visit the immigration reform section of the PMA website.