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Farming leader: Immigration emotion hampers migrant labor solution

Howard G. Buffett, left, speaks with moderator Max Armstrong at the Southwestern Agriculture Summit in Yuma. He said emotion over illegal immigration is hampering efforts to get more farm labor into the U.S. from Mexico. (Cronkite News Service photo by Connor Radnovich)

YUMA – Emotion over illegal immigration and a lack of understanding between politicians and farmers is hampering efforts to bring much-needed migrant labor into the U.S., a noted farmer, philanthropist and author said March 8.

“When we talk with agriculture people in Washington, and they’ve never been on a farm, that’s your problem,” said Howard G. Buffett, a farmer and president of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. “They’ve never lost a farm, or lost a crop, because they couldn’t get labor.”

Addressing the Southwestern Agriculture Summit, Buffett, the son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, also said the U.S. Department of Labor needs a change in mentality when it comes to bringing in labor.

Buffett, who oversees research farms in Arizona, Illinois and South Africa, was a keynote speaker at the summit, which offered growers the opportunity to discuss subjects including technology, innovation, irrigation and pesticide control.

He said the main system for bringing in migrant workers, the H-2A program, is slow and inefficient. But the political pundits are turning important discussions about solutions into a debate between two uncompromising sides, he said.

“There are commentators that immediately … go to amnesty. Nobody’s talking about amnesty,” Buffett said. “But if you inject amnesty into the discussion, all of a sudden it polarizes the debate. It separates people and people take positions on it and the emotion goes up.”

Meanwhile, he said, farms have gone out of business because they haven’t been able to get enough labor or get labor quickly enough to keep crops from rotting.

“That’s an emotional issue. That’s your livelihood. That’s everything you have invested,” Buffett said. “That’s your family. That’s your legacy.”

Buffett said the Labor Department wrongly believes that with unemployment still high workers shouldn’t be brought into the country. American workers aren’t going to take back-breaking farming jobs, especially if they are already living off welfare, he said.

“If there’s one thing that everyone ought to understand, and everyone in this room will understand it, is Americans will not do this job,” Buffett said.

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  1. The farmers know they can get plenty of willing american workers if they would pay the going rate for hard labor. Their problem is that they want people to do a hard backbreaking job out in the hot sun but they refuse to pay. They are too used to having low costs illegal slaves around to work for practically nothing. Their business model calls for selling their produce at a given price and they don’t understand that farm labor is just 10% of what the consumer pays in a grocery. They could easily double what they give the workers, increase their prices to make up the difference and still sell all that they could grow. The price to the consumer would be only 10% higher. People would hardly notice this difference. The Farmers also need to ask themselves why they don’t use the existing guest worker visas? The reason is they would have to pay the same as thay would have to pay to get american workers. So this is all about money. Claiming that american workers are too fat and lazy to pick vegitables is just insulting.

  2. Hacimo:

    Sorry, but your comments are moronic. The article clearly highlights how difficult and cumbersome the H-2A agricultural visa process is. Have you ever used it? I have, and it is a nightmare. You have to deal with multiple levels of government regulations (at the USDOL and USCIS levels) that are dense and confusing. Flexibility and quickness are essential to getting workers when you need them and this program is anything but. So please don’t give us your simpleminded “Why can’t they just use the existing visa programs?” input. And for the record, it may be insulting to say that Americans will not perform those type of jobs, but it is entirely accurate. You go run a farm and offer higher than average wages and see what type of a labor force you can attract. You will still have folks quitting after a few days or maybe a week. Nothing you say can change this. You are the type of moron who would rather see the U.S. cut off its nose to spite its face when it comes to the immigration issue. I, on the other hand, have no problem acknowledging that finding reliable “work authorized” farm labor in the country is a serious problem that is not being addressed by Congress.

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