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By Staff | Feb 5, 2016

Given the political fever to close our borders without legal immigration reform, the farm labor shortage is likely to get much worse.

There is a farm labor shortage even with immigrants working in the ag sector.

When they deport them en masse, a plan that is growing in popularity, a farm labor crisis will envelope the sector.

A couple things will happen – U.S. food costs will raise and food imports will increase. If we can’t get the number of workers needed to grow food here they will grow it somewhere else and export it to us.

If they blocked food imports, going along with the protectionist sentiment which is also increasing, wouldn’t that be an amazing turnaround from what we have been trying to do all of these years – getting other trade partners to lower their trade barriers to U.S. ag exports?

Immigrant workers want to do these jobs and would pay taxes and hold U.S. food costs down. What the food sector wants is a legal workforce with a system of work visas. No one benefits from letting this problem go unsolved or be made worse.

The American Farm Bureau Federation has been leading the effort trying to get a focus on improving and expanding a legal guest-worker program, but has run up against strong headwinds in its own party.

Anyone in the GOP that doesn’t come off as the biggest hard-ass on immigration is criticized by Trump as some kind of loser and by conservatives as being liberals, today.

What Farm Bureau is pushing is totally reasonable, but it is way out of context given the tenor of the current negative sentiment on immigration that has been inflamed for political purposes.

To many conservatives, the number of foreign workers they want to let in legally is “none.” That would have serious consequences to U.S. food production and consumer food prices.

Before our Congressman Steve King decided that Ted Cruz was the second coming, he once said that he and Donald Trump completed each other’s sentences.

I think Trump’s immigration stance came from Steve King who calls them drug dealers and rapists.

King’s problem is that there have been so many Hispanic immigrants working in his congressional district that his constituents have gotten to know them and found them to be good hardworking people just like their own immigrant ancestors.

King’s broad stroke negatively characterizing these workers is ideologically motivated. Farmers in King’s district have tried to move the congressman to consider their labor problems and create a legal pathway for immigrant workers.

His ears and his mind have been closed. This is not a request for a pathway to citizenship, but a pathway to a day’s labor for a fair paycheck with deductions for taxes taken from it.

Farmers tell me that you would have as much luck talking to a barn door as to the congressman on this issue.

I have listened to them and they tell me that they have not been able to hire Americans to do this work regardless of pay. They show up for a couple days and decide the work is not for them.

They have had good experience with immigrant workers and they argue that they are not stealing Americans jobs. These are jobs Americans do not want. There are evangelical Christian dairy farmers who would swear to that on a Bible.

Poultry, hog and dairy farms, as well as food processors, use and need this workforce here in Iowa. That is even more the case for fruit and vegetable workers in other states.

These immigration hard-liners have no plan as to how to solve the farm labor problem. They basically tell the ag sector to go take a hike and leave them alone as they could care less about their labor problems, which is an unusual representative/constituent relationship.

Their policies would exacerbate the farm labor shortage turning it into a crisis. They mostly just blow off these farmers and Farm Bureau, who bring up the worker program treating them like they are just making this all up in order to get cheap labor.

RFS, TPP, Farm labor – Steve King has put ideology ahead of his constituent’s interests on all of these issues.

King will have to pull harder and harder on his evangelical voter ID card to keep his seat. One option would be for Farm Bureau, with the help of Gov. Branstad, to find a good GOP candidate from the ag sector to mount a primary challenge to King.

There are a lot of farmers in King’s district who would contribute to that campaign. King is an ineffective congressman in Washington, who has become a lightning rod for the hard right, which is a distraction from his purpose to be in Washington as a representative of his constituents. He spends his time playing politics.

As I have pointed out, had the defeated King Amendment to the last farm bill been called the Latham bill it would have had a significantly higher chance of becoming law.

The ag sector needed what was in that amendment that would have stopped California from discriminating against eggs and ethanol from Iowa and King’s name killed it.

Very few in Congress will vote for anything with Steve King’s name on it. That penalty is born by the constituents in King’s district.

There is a reason why King has been in Washington so long and his party has never given him a committee leadership position.

They think about as much of King as they do Cruz. It is personal. They are not respected. Steve King has become an obstacle to governance that benefits his district and it’s time for a change.

David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.

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