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Will Latinos continue to work on Iowa’s farms?

By Staff | Jun 12, 2009

DES MOINES – Citing the fact that Latinos are the fastest growing segment in the U.S. population, and noting that most of Caucasian America is growing older and don’t have the workforce numbers to replace themselves at retirement time, one counselor for Latino workers said this workforce “is here to stay.”

Orlando Gil, a Venezuelan native who owns Training Connections-Translating Services, based in Dickins in central Clay County, spoke to a room of 15 Iowa pork producers during last week’s World Pork Expo at the Polk County 4-H & FFA Fairgrounds in Des Moines.

Gil said the top two reasons that most Iowa producers have avoided using Latino labor were the language barrier and legal status of some workers. He said that many Iowa producers have worked through these issues, especially the language differences, which takes time and patience.

He emphasized that producers should be certain that immigrant laborers are legal.

Gil noted that the current demographics of America show that 76 million baby boomers have, or are reaching, retirement age. But because white and black Americans’ households average 2.6 children, there are not enough young people coming into the workforce to replace the large block of boomers.

This demographic is even more telling in agriculture, he said, with farmers aging and having few resources for passing their farms onto family.

The Latino population in the U.S., with an average of 3.5, children per household, exceeded blacks in the year 2000, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. By the year 2050, the Latino population is projected to total 132.8 million. At that point, Gil said, Caucasians would be numbered as a minority in the U.S.

He said from 1990 to 2005, the number of active farmers aged 25 to 30, fell by 44.5 percent. “U.S. farmers,” he added, “aren’t making kids who are interested in animal agriculture. Who’s going to take care of the pigs?

“50 percent of the people who become old enough for the U.S. workforce are Latino,” Gil continued, “followed by whites at 37 percent and blacks at 9 percent.” He predicts that Latinos would eventually move into farm management positions as their skills of U.S.-style agriculture and knowledge of federal regulations improve.

“So why hire Latinos?” Gil told the group, “because we are here.”

He said many immigrants from Central and South America come to the U.S. because they already have family here. Their quality of life “back home” is poverty level. “Many don’t make minimum wage in a week,” Gil said. Minimum wages, Gil indicated, is a step up economically for many. Many work here and send money back to their native countries and work to bring the rest of their families north.

“So we are the pipeline for the American workforce,” Gil said. Showing a graphic that depicts the number of immigrants from Mexico and the 15 countries that comprise Central and South America, Gil added, “we need these folks to do the jobs.”

According to Pew Hispanic Center, Iowa’s Latino population jumped by 49.7 percent from 2000 to 2006.

Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, ext. 453 or by e-mail at kersh@farm-news.com.

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