May 14, 2020Food supply in danger if we don’t use immigrant workers legally, grower says
On May 13, Fox Business published the following commentary by Fred Leitz, a farmer and a past president of the National Council of Agricultural Employers who lives in Sodus, Michigan.
“The novel coronavirus has given Americans their first taste of broad-scale food insecurity. It’s a problem that could impair our country beyond the current crisis. In fact, it could become the new normal unless we save American farming.
As a fourth-generation Michigan farmer, I’ve seen domestic agriculture lose its competitive edge as tighter borders have choked our labor pipeline and cheaper foreign producers have captured the majority of the market.
Now, COVID-19 has further disrupted our distribution channels, causing a jump in demand from grocery stores and plummeting demand from wholesale markets like restaurants and schools.
For many commercial farms like mine, the produce we sell typically gets split in half between the two markets.
The global pandemic is forcing us to innovate and think of ways we can adapt to the changing demand model.
Farms are already struggling under the existing pressure of worker shortages and a cutthroat market; they don’t have the bandwidth or labor to pivot so sharply.
I’m one of the lucky ones. For now, my commercial fruit and vegetable farm will move forward with full-scale production. And I’m only able to do this because of the committed immigrant farmworkers tending my fields.
There’s a direct line between having guaranteed labor and being able to pivot to meet the changing needs of this new crisis.
Most farms these days falter or fail because immigration restrictions and a loss of interest in farm work among Americans has drastically decreased the labor supply. That’s why, when my first group of migrant workers bounded off the bus wearing facemasks in early April, I gave them a warm welcome and thanked them profusely for showing up to work.”
Fred Leitz in his storage area on his Sodus, Michigan farm. Photo: Stephen Kloosterman