Phony Farm Labor Shortage: We Need to Talk About It by John Carney

One way to test if there is a labor shortage on farms would be to look at the labor cost. If farms were truly struggling to find enough workers, their labor costs would be skyrocketing. But that isn’t what’s happening.

A couple of weeks ago, I pointed out that despite all the talk of a farm labor shortage last summer, American farms had an amazingly profitable year.

Net cash income rose from the record high in 2010 of $99.4 billion to a new record high of $134.7 billion. That’s an eye-popping 35.5 percent profit growth!

I pointed out that in some of the states that had been repeatedly said to be facing a labor shortage—California and Washington, for example—profit growth was even higher. Washington farms saw profits grow by 58 percent, for goodness’ sakes.

Yet somehow the myth of a farm labor shortage persists.

I received countless emails arguing that in one way or another, I had missed the orchard for the trees. Folks insist that despite record profitability, there remains a labor shortage.

And, of course, there are now dire predictions that the farm labor shortage of 2011 (which never happened) will be even worse in 2012. My colleague Jane Wells recently reported that the Western Growers Association claims its members are reporting a 20 percent drop in laborers this year.

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