Orzel Black has compiled a series of farming related topics that all point to one thing, there is a shift occurring at the core of our concept of farming. Every industry goes through cycles which lead to profound change in its identity. These cycles always look the same, early on you have whispers of technological change, then, as those new technologies are revealed to the industry the human factor enters and people retaliate and seek out social change to safeguard themselves from the advances that threaten to make them obsolete. Typically, there are strikes and a political discourse hits the mainstream media at which time people from other industries enter the mix. Throughout this months farming series Orzel Black has delved into a few advances in technology, we have written about the social programs that affect the industry through the H-2A Foreign Guest Worker Program, and we have talked about the rising trend in Eating Local. But what has brought all of these things to the forefront of discussion? People have increasingly turned to the urban environment to seek out jobs, farmers are getting older, and wages are rising in the farming industry due to a tightening labor force. We believe this is the center of gravity for the change in the industry that has brought it to the edge of the horizon, the next step is profound change.
Between 2014 and 2018, the average hourly real wage for non-supervisory hired farm workers (in 2018 dollars) rose from $12.00 to $13.25, an increase of 10.4 percent. This increase in the real wage for farm labor is the fastest experienced over a 4-year period during the past two decades. Employment of agricultural equipment operators is projected to increase 6 percent, about as fast as the average for all occupations, and faster than any other type of agricultural worker. Increased use of mechanization on farms is expected to lead to more jobs for agricultural equipment operators relative to farm workers and laborers. The rise in wages has put farmers between a rock and a hard place as Riley Graham explains in her article 'Increasing Farm Wages: A Labor Crisis and the Effects on Agriculture', "To mitigate the cost of labor farmers are forced to increase productivity of their crews, raise their prices, or switch to automated processes. Each of these options has major drawbacks. Increasing productivity is difficult and there is only so much work that can be done in one day. Some farms offer production bonuses to their workers based on how many pounds of produce is harvested in the day. These bonuses can be costly, especially since the workers baseline pay is already so high. Since labor is more expensive, the price of the crop must go up. However, farmers are competing not only with other states with lower minimum wages, but with other countries that have no regulations regarding farm labor. Raising the price of the product will only result in more produce being imported from Mexico. This takes jobs away from entry level positions across the entire farm."
As much as the 'edge' may frighten some, I believe the discussions we have brought about this month in regards to farming, when applied together can be a powerful solution and could usher Agro-business into a new era, take us passed the edge of the horizon. If farmers pivot from big-business to their local communities by utilizing the technology becoming more affordable in the form of modular farming, l believe they would need to hire more hands to assist in the sales and management of produce in local farmer's markets which would stabilize the tightened labor market while at the same time being able to raise the price of produce under the premise that the food is fresh and local. And I believe people will buy, because they are already doing so. We see eat local signs everywhere now to include big box stares like Walmart and Target. In addition, if a domestic guest worker program was instated I believe communities would be able to more effectively and efficiently manage their population in need of work.
Let's make a greater effort to support our local farmer's markets and not only meet the people of our communities but lets put people to work. Farmers can grow and sell their produce at better prices and in turn can pay off their hired hands better, local box truck drivers can pick up and deliver their produce to the market place, and families can support the community by spending their dollars on the people that make their community what it is.