The Biggest Challenge of Farming Comes to Life

The Lempert Report
July 12, 2021

You might have watched the report on CBS This Morning on Sunday June 27th which focused on the shortage of farm labor.

Shay Meyers is a third-generation farmer on the Oregon- Idaho border. He grows onions and asparagus. And when his asparagus crop was ready for picking he had a huge problem. On that day in April, Shay's workers from Mexico were stuck at the border because of a hold-up with their visas. The H-2A guest worker program gives agricultural workers temporary visas to come from abroad if farmers can't find enough domestic workers. Myers' farm pays about $16 an hour for farm work. "It's hard work," he told CBS. "And culturally as a nation, we look down, I think, on field workers and the type of work that's done in field for some reason. And so, it's a catch-22." Myers – and farmers across America – are grappling with the fact that it's almost impossible to grow fruits and vegetables without farm workers.  Myers, had been sleepless for days, he said so he went on TikTok on April 19  to "understand the ramifications of what's going on at the border, and the lack of labor that we have in this country." And invited people to come to his farm and pick the asparagus for themselves rather than having to plow under the $180,000 worth of crop. He said he expected a few hundred people to show up – but instead over 6,000 people came for the free asparagus and for many it was the first time they ever took to the field and harvested a crop. Myers said that one day cost him and his family their entire asparagus profit for the year. But that's what can happen when you're reliant on an increasingly scarce labor force coming in from Mexico. 

"Farm laborers are so critical to our actual life on a daily basis,” he said.

Diane Charlton, an agricultural economist at Montana State University who has studied immigration and agriculture, told CBS, "I think most people would agree with me that it doesn't make sense that we depend on a workforce who can't even remain here legally. It's not easy for the farmers, it's not easy for the workers. It's far from ideal. There is currently a bill in Congress to try to reform the H-2A program to make it easier for producers to use that program, to provide a path to citizenship for those who participate in the program. Unfortunately, there have not been better solutions for many decades," she said. Myers is a self-described staunch conservative and one of the first changes he'd like to make would be to give immigrant, undocumented workers a path to citizenship. "They came here with a dream," he said. "They came here to make a difference for their family. They came here to improve their lives. They put food on everyone's table. They should have a way, a path to citizenship.” Our supply chain is broken, and it’s time we fix it.