Critics of my reporting on the phoniness of the farm labor crisis said that the Department of Agriculture figures were misleading. (Read more: 'Bitter Harvest' Watch: Time Magazine Edition)
So, in the interest of fairness, we gave a column to a fellow by the name of Craig J. Regelbrugge, co-chair of an outfit called Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform, to rebut my claims.
Here's what he said
The senior editor's all too common error is to grossly oversimplify American agriculture and draw the wrong conclusions as a result.
Carney needs to spend more time down on the farm — literally. And not just any farm. Maybe he should start with a Washington state asparagus farm. Growers there plowed under 15 percent of the crop this year because of a shortage of pickers.
Abandoning a field is a big deal because you don't plant asparagus each year. It grows from long-lived roots that produce a crop each spring.
That's just one example of the two different worlds of crop agriculture. The first involves commodities such as corn, soybeans, wheat and rice, which are typically grown on large-scale farms with highly mechanized processes. These crops require minimal hand labor: A mechanical planter puts the seeds into the soil, and a mechanical harvester reaps the grain.
Such crops have also historically enjoyed safety nets including government subsidies, price supports, crop insurance and disaster relief. More recently, they have benefited from major new subsidies for crop-to-energy programs.
(Read the entire rebuttal: Regelbrugge: The Farm Labor Crisis: Imagined, or Real?)
Unfortunately for co-chair Regelbrugge, last week the Washington field office of the Department of Agriculture released data about how Washington's apple and strawberry farmers fared in the "crisis" of 2011. And the data devastates the farm labor crisis case.
Let's start with those asparagus farms that Regelbrugge thinks I should spend more time upon. They saw the value of their crop rise 7.7 percent. Looks like the alleged labor shortage didn't result in any sort of supply shortage.
Next, take that apple crop. It's Washington's biggest agriculture product and features in almost every story written about the alleged crisis. Last year, the value of Washington's apple crop rose 18 percent.
The blueberry crop saw the value rocket 123 percent. Strawberries were up 17.4 percent. Cherries up 45.3 percent.
I don't want to give you the wrong idea. Not all labor-intensive fruit and veggie crop values were up. Peaches, raspberries and grapes saw declines, for example.
But very clearly the great labor shortage of 2011 just did not actually happen.
"Last year, Washington's farmers produced the most valuable harvest in the history of Washington," said Dan Newhouse, director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture, in a press release last week.
- by CNBC Senior Editor John Carney
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