Chatter: Consumer Prices Could Rise If Farms Lack Workers

Vegetables are rotting in California because farmers cannot find enough workers to harvest them.

“I need more Mexicans like you,” a Kansas wheat farmer told an undocumented immigrant.

It is easy to find stories about the need for farm country workers in media nationwide. At the recent Farmfest event in southwestern Minnesota, American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall said immigration and lack of farm workers is the No. 1 issue in rural America.

Duvall said he is confident his long-time friend and now agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, will make sure President Trump knows about the problem. However, it is not clear if Trump is willing to back away from his anti-immigrant stance to help agriculture.

Some experts say half of the American farm workers are illegal immigrants.

The Trump administration has produced a dramatic increase in rounding up illegals, as he promised in his campaign. Besides removing the arrested ones from the job picture, the roundup has frightened other immigrants — legal and illegal — so much that they are keeping a low profile.

The Daily Yonder, an online rural newspaper, reports: “While the Trump administration is getting behind a bill to limit immigration to highly skilled workers, farmers and worker groups alike say what the nation needs is a more reliable supply of agricultural workers. A path to citizenship is key, say worker advocates.”

That would appear to go against Trump immigration beliefs.

Immigrants make up a large portion of the Minnesota farm product processing industry, as well as being a prime source for farm workers — although not as critical as states like California, where much crop work is labor intensive.

The worker shortage is affecting more than farmers. Consumers soon will feel it in stores as higher prices.

Fortune magazine reports that flooding and drought generally have a bigger impact on prices than labor shortages. “But for farmers, who have seen net farm income fall 50 percent since 2013, any lost income could be potentially devastating.”

Bloomberg Businessweek reports: “Perdue told Congress last month that the existing H2A visa, which admits seasonal workers, ‘has not been as successful as we would like, and it’s very onerous,’ especially for smaller farms, to navigate all the paperwork.”

MNsure lengthens enrollment

MNsure CEO Allison O’Toole emphasizes that only because Minnesota runs its own individual health insurance website it could give customers more time to sign up.

The federal government will allow six weeks for enrollment, from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15, on websites it runs for many states. But the feds allow state-run sites to accept enrollments longer. So MNsure opted to add Dec. 16 through Jan. 14.

“Shopping for health care coverage is complex, and we heard loud and clear from stakeholders and consumers that Minnesotans needed more time to shop than the federal open enrollment period allowed,” O’Toole said. “The additional four weeks will ensure that Minnesotans will have the necessary time to get help from assisters and find the coverage that is right for them.”

MNsure offers individual insurance policies, and it coordinates enrollment on state-run programs like Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare.

For those who buy individual policies, MNsure is the only way they can get federal subsidies. This year, 90 percent of MNsure enrollees got those credits.

Dayton security chair

Gov. Mark Dayton will be chairman of the National Governors’ Association Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee.

“I will use this position to advocate for national policies that strengthen public safety, homeland defense, and the best interests of our heroic National Guard members,” Dayton said.

The panel develops policy positions on issues related to homeland security, the National Guard, criminal justice and public safety and veterans’ issues.