ISU economist Chris Boessen, one of the study’s authors, says the pork industry is making gradual yet major shifts. “In the last couple of decades, the hog industry has changed dramatically from operations using a lot of family labor, sometimes paid, sometimes unpaid family labor,” Boessen says. “That’s more or less gone away as we’ve intensified and gone to more of a high-tech, capitol-intensive, more-concentrated production.”
Boessen says the study shows the labor market has changed in Iowa and across the region. “You have a lot of growth, a lot of hiring in the hog industry, it needs a lot of workers,” Boessen says, “but at the same time in the last few years, the labor market’s really tightened up from 10% unemployment in 2009 to 4% and really below 4% in a lot of the main hog states here, especially in the Midwest.” The change in U.S. immigration policy has contributed to a shortage of foreign ag workers, but Boessen says it’s more than just that.
“We’re moving into a period now where we’re going to worry less about a wave of immigrants and worry more about how we’re going to manage a workforce where we have fewer immigrants,” Boessen says. “The immigrants who are here are aging and retiring and there’s lots of things happening in other countries, immigrant-sending countries. People are getting better educations, better economies, more opportunities.” As conditions improve elsewhere, he says immigrants have less motivation to come to the U.S. NPPC officials say in addition to this study, data compiled by U.S.D.A.’s Economic Research Service shows a reduction in the foreign-born workforce prompted by a change in immigration policy would not be offset by native born workers and permanent residents.
The council is backing Congressional legislation calling for an H2C visa to allow non-seasonal foreign ag workers to stay in the U.S. for up to three years.
(By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton)