WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
United States agriculture is facing many challenges. Growers are facing increased labor costs, variable crop yields due to weather and pests, global grower competition, and changes in public demand.1
WHAT WE KNOW
A recent article on the California peach industry shed light on the challenges growers confront with labor availability.2 Most produce, including crops such as grapes, peaches, tomatoes, and dates, require hand picking and are very labor intensive. Migrant workers tend to follow crops that are in the peak of their season because the demand for labor at the farm will be high. As crops come to the end of their growing season, workers move on to a new crop and the last farm is left with produce to pick and nobody to pick it. This results in less revenue for the farm because they are unable to harvest all of their produce.
Wages are another problem grower’s face. Hired labor accounts for about 40 percent of expenses with growing fruits and vegetables.3 However, half of the labor pool for U.S. crops over the past 15 years has been foreigners that lacked authorized immigration status. Changing immigration laws could greatly impact the availability of farm workers, the cost of produce, and ultimately the sustainability of the farm.
Weather, pests, and plant diseases have always been a factor on crop production. Growers adapt to the environment in which they farm by choosing crops that can withstand local weather and pests. However, weather directly affects crop yields and therefore the price we pay at the store for fruits and vegetables. The drought in California, for example, will likely have a great impact on pricing. Growers may reduce the number of acres they plant due to water availability and may have higher production costs due to lack of water.5 Growers may also change out crops for more drought tolerant plants which would reduce the availability of some produce.
With climate changes, pest and plant diseases also change. Weather has a direct effect on the number of pests and diseases as well as the type that affect crops every year.6 Warmer weather tends to increase the number of bugs and plant diseases, which increase farm costs to protect crops. This may directly influence consumer costs if crop yield is lost due to pest destruction.
Unavailable land, unfavorable climate changes, and work availability in the United States has opened opportunity for other countries to compete in America’s produce market. International growers are able to produce fruits and vegetables at a lower cost than American growers which bumps U.S. farms out of the marketplace on national and international levels.7 In 2011, the U.S. exported approximately seven billion dollars in fruits and vegetables, but imported over 18 billion dollars of produce. International competition for U.S. growers adds stress to find crops that will result in revenue to keep farms operating in America. To possibly find a balance in the global market, some U.S. farms are starting to use machines for picking and processing to reduce costs, increase productivity, and decrease consumer prices. Mechanical harvesting of fresh produce is not nearly as advanced as that used for canned or frozen produce.
WHAT THIS MEANS
U.S. growers are under great stress to stay afloat. We can support U.S. growers by purchasing domestically grown crops and increasing our intake of fruits and vegetables. By aiming to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables at every meal and snack, not only are you supporting growers, but you are providing your body with optimal nutrition. Fruits and vegetables provide essential nutrients that protect the body from disease and help maintain a healthy weight. Most importantly, they are delicious!
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