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By Staff | Apr 15, 2016

My timing was perfect when tuning into a Wisconsin town hall meeting with Ted Cruz, as I had the opportunity to hear a dairy farmer ask Cruz about his immigration policy and how that would impact dairy farmers who need and use immigrant labor.

Donald Trump got blasted for not having thought through how women who get abortions should be treated. Farm labor is not nearly as controversial as abortion, but like Donald, Ted has not thought through the impact of his immigration policy on agriculture.

The Wisconsin dairy farmer was concerned over losing access to needed immigrant labor which is disproportionately important to the dairy industry as it makes up such a large portion of its labor base.

Ted didn’t catch on. He first leaned on the No. 1 pander that GOP candidates use on farmers, which is that he would end the regulatory burden on them. Stop EPA, stop WOTUS – all the things that farmers hate about Washington. I agree, but that is standard equipment on the GOP model.

Tell me something new and different. Ending regulation will not offset the negative impact of losing the RFS, trade protectionism or a labor crisis caused by deportation of the ag sector’s labor force.

Next, Ted revisited his hardline immigration policy which has no accommodation for farm workers in it. He brought up the experience of Arizona where tough state laws caused an exodus of immigrant workers to other states.

He cited the example of an Arizona pepper producer with his workforce diminished by the exodus of immigrants depleting his workforce. Cruz said the farmer went to the university and with their help designed new automation to pick peppers to reduce labor needs. He suggested it was a “live happily ever after” solution to pepper farming that could be easily replicated and I think that was grossly exaggerated.

Ted promoted that employers would have to raise wages in order to find workers, like the dairy industry had not already thought of that. They already pay high wages and have had little success finding workers willing to milk cows.

That is consistent with many jobs in agriculture. He kept pounding that the desired result was to raise wages showing no cognizance whatsoever that this would harm the dairy business which already offers the wage Ted alludes to. He made no mention how this would increase food prices to consumers.

The dairy industry estimates the loss of its immigrant workforce would increase milk prices more than 60 percent.

There is new technology advancing automation in milking, but it requires a huge investment that small and mid-sized dairy operations can least afford.

Ted acted like he gave the dairy farmer a great answer and solution, but you could tell from the look on the dairy farmer’s face that he was neither impressed nor satisfied. Ted never actually answered the question and what he did was patronize the farmer.

Then again he did answer the question. The non-answer was that Ted was making no accommodation for a legal workforce for the ag sector in his immigration policy. He was essentially warning the Wisconsin dairy farmer and the ag industry that if he were President ag would lose its current workforce, wages would have to spiral sharply higher and a huge new investment in automation would be required for labor-intensive operations to stay in business.

This would be a financial disaster for the dairy industry causing further consolidation. He failed to mention that consumers would pay a lot more for food. None of this would be offset with the reduction in regulation that he promised.

Ted also opposes the TPP which promotes much-needed expansion in U.S. dairy exports. Ted’s protectionism would damage the entire ag sector – corn, soybean, cattle and hog producers that rely heavily on exports and growth.

Ted is an anti-economic growth candidate for the ag sector. He will spin that his new tax regime will fix all this, but you have to have income in order to benefit from lower taxes and Ted’s policies kill farm income.

What is worse is that he has no clue. He proved that in his answer. Ted spun what he proposed as somehow being just what the dairy farmer wanted to hear, ending with one of his weasel smiles. The dairy farmer was not given the opportunity to respond.

Ted is a very good politician. He can do the same thing spinning other issues such as trade and ethanol, making it sound like he was offering good things when the reality of what he outlines is the opposite.

I am glad I caught the dairy farmer’s question and Ted Cruz’s revealing non-answer.

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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