Is this a Solution? Farmers renting out land in MX, hiring MX Labor?
September 5, 2007
Short on Labor, Farmers in U.S. Shift to Mexico
By JULIA PRESTON
CELAYA, Mexico — Steve Scaroni, a farmer from California, looked across a luxuriant field of lettuce here in central Mexico and liked what he saw: full-strength crews of Mexican farm workers with no immigration problems.
Farming since he was a teenager, Mr. Scaroni, 50, built a $50 million business growing lettuce and broccoli in the fields of California, relying on the hands of immigrant workers, most of them Mexican and many probably in the United States illegally.
But early last year he began shifting part of his operation to rented fields here. Now some 500 Mexicans tend his crops in Mexico, where they run no risk of deportation.
“I’m as American red-blood as it gets,” Mr. Scaroni said, “but I’m tired of fighting the fight on the immigration issue.”
A sense of crisis prevails among American farmers who rely on immigrant laborers, more so since immigration legislation in the United States Senate failed in June and the authorities announced a crackdown on employers of illegal immigrants. An increasing number of farmers have been testing the alternative of raising crops across the border where there is a stable labor supply, growers and lawmakers in the United States and Mexico said.
Western Growers, an association representing farmers in California and Arizona, conducted an informal telephone survey of its members in the spring. Twelve large agribusinesses that acknowledged having operations in Mexico reported a total of 11,000 workers here.
“It seems there is a bigger rush to Mexico and elsewhere,” said Tom Nassif, the Western Growers president, who said Americans were also farming in countries in Central America.
Precise statistics are not readily available on American farming in Mexico, because growers seek to maintain a low profile for their operations abroad. But Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, displayed a map on the Senate floor in July locating more than 46,000 acres that American growers were cultivating in just two Mexican states, Guanajuato and Baja California.
“Farmers are renting land in Mexico,” Ms. Feinstein said. “They don’t want us to know that.”
She predicted that more American farmers would move to Mexico for the ready work force and lower wages. Ms. Feinstein favored a measure in the failed immigration bill that would have created a new guest worker program for agriculture and a special legal status for illegal immigrant farm workers.
In the past, some Americans have planted south of the border to escape spiraling land prices and to ensure year-round deliveries of crops they can produce only seasonally in the United States. But in the last three years, Mr. Nassif and other growers said, labor force uncertainties have become a major reason farmers have shifted to Mexico.
While there are benefits for Mexico, as American farmers bring the latest technology and techniques to its crop-producing regions, American farm state economists say thousands of middle-class jobs supporting agriculture are being lost in the United States. Some lawmakers in the United States also point to security risks when food for Americans is increasingly produced in foreign countries.