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Immigration Reform Critical for Agriculture

Carlos Castaneda, a farm labor contractor in California, took part in the Smithsonian Food History Roundtables Friday in Washington, D.C. His presentation, The Politics of Farm Labor, addressed agriculture’s need for immigration reform. Speaking to the American Farm Bureau Federation, Castaneda says immigration reform is critical to our ability to produce food…

“Their farms that have the opportunity to head out of the country.  I know multiple farms in our small community, the big guys that have gone out to Peru, to Chile, to Mexico, and they’re not dealing with all the issues that we deal with here. So, what is that doing to us as a nation, to have the ability to feed ourselves?  I ask that question to many and I just get blank stares.”                              

Castaneda explains that there is a shortage in agricultural labor due to changing workforce trends and the difficulty of farm work…

“I’m not describing anyone that’s worked their tails off in previous generations during the summers and weekends and what have you, I don’t’ see that today.  We’ve been in the labor business for over 25 years, I have yet to see somebody say ‘hey, can I have a summer job?’, it’s doesn’t seem to be that way.

People say it’s because you don’t pay enough.  Really?  We have crews that make $1,000 a week or more.  And I still can’t get enough labor. 

It’s very hard work.  It’s labor intense, it’s cold, it’s hot, it’s windy, it’s frost.  You’re not working in an air conditioned space out of the elements.”

Castaneda says a bipartisan effort is needed to pass a comprehensive bill for immigration. Senate Bill 744, which failed to pass Congress, would have addressed concerns on both sides of the aisle…

“We saw Senate Bill 744 come forward, which, my opinion, addressed all the concerns we had from both sides out of the isle, and, as you know, that was a bi-partisan bill.  And in today’s political environment, that lost steam.”

Moving forward, he says we now have a real opportunity to solve immigration reform and protect the business of agriculture, but farmers need to continue to advocate for reasonable reform that addresses agriculture’s short- and long-term needs…

 “We’re not doing a very good job of educating our constituents across the nation.  And because of that our constituents aren’t pressuring their local legislatures to press for something this important to our nation.  For the first time in history, we have an opportunity to actually solve a huge problem.    

That’s Carlos Castaneda, a farm labor contractor in California.'

A native of the Texas Panhandle, Rhonda was born and raised on a cotton farm where she saw cotton farming evolve from ditch irrigation to center pivot irrigation and harvest trailers to modules. After graduating from Texas Tech University, she got her start in radio with KGNC News Talk 710 in Amarillo, Texas.