During last year’s harvest season farm labor shortages here in Washington were quite evident, and this has carried over into the asparagus harvest this year. Will other Washington producers be faced with labor shortages as farm production begins to pick up, and what can or is being done to address the immigration issues that are at the center of Washington’s farm labor shortage? Washington Congressman Doc Hastings responds.
HASTINGS: I think we have to have a workable guest worker program. Keep in mind, we can’t make any of our growers policemen. They are required to look at the identification, if the identification meets the standard then they’ll hire people. But in so many cases after the fact you find out that (in) many cases that identification has been forged. So we have to try to get a workable guest worker program so there’s some predictability and stability in the labor force. Unfortunately, that gets bogged down in other extraneous issues. The good news is, there is more and more of a realization that labor intensive agriculture needs to be treated differently than other areas.
There is the question, will rising food prices give government the shot in the arm it needs to get something done?
HASTINGS: Well, if we have a labor problem, then certainly we’re going to have less product that’s harvested, which of course will indeed raise prices - ultimately at the consumer level. That’s why we need to have, in the long term, a workable guest worker program.
Most growers say the solution to this problem lies in reforming immigration laws that would permit illegal immigrants to remain in the country and work their way to legal status.
I’m Lacy Gray and that’s Washington Ag Today on the Northwest Ag Information Network.