International Fresh Produce Association releases new reports studying the impact of agriculture labour crisis on food security

Picking grapes United States labour Adobe Stock

The International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) has released two new reports underscoring the impact of the agricultural labour crisis on the fresh produce industry and US food security.

The reports, conducted by Texas A&M University, Center for North American Studies, and leading agricultural experts, concluded that unless Congress acted quickly, US consumers would rely on overseas countries to meet their food needs, jeopardising food security and national security.

“Out-of-control labour costs threaten to upend our food supply chain and push America’s fresh produce industry into crisis,” said IFPA chief executive Cathy Burns.

“These reports underscore the urgent need for congressional action to provide relief to growers and reform current regulations that expose employers to liabilities outside of their direct control and allow workers to receive wages for work they have not done.”

A decreased domestic labour pool, increased reliance on the H-2A Visa programme, and the programme’s flawed wage calculation had “dramatically impacted” the cost and availability of labour, pricing US growers out of the market, the report stated.

The report also found that the average farmer was unable to access 21 per cent of their necessary workforce; reliance on the H-2A Visa programme had surged by 300 per cent since 2012, representing 10-15 per cent of all agricultural labour jobs; and jobs certified by the H-2A Visa programme represented 10 to 15 per cent of all agricultural jobs today.

Looking at fruit, the report said that since 2020, a larger share of the total supply of fresh fruit in the US was imported than grown domestically.

In 2000, 37 per cent of fruits were imported, up to 55 per cent in 2022, and in 2022, fruit imports were 29 per cent of the total supply, up from 9.5 per cent in 2000.

Farm wages had grown more than 20 per cent due to increases in the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR), the minimum hourly wage the Department of Labor requires employers to pay H-2A workers, ”which often does not match local market conditions” IFPA said.

The financial strain on growers and reduced competitiveness in the international market was poised to impact consumers with significantly increased prices for domestically grown produce, it continued.

The House of Representatives and Senate are considering several pieces of legislation that would address various issues with the H-2A programme.

”From burdening consumers with high costs and hindering nutritional accessibility to increasing dependence on foreign nations to secure our food supply, the consequences of delayed action on the agricultural labour crisis are far-reaching,” IFPA stated.