Labor shortages in the U.S. are a substantial reason for the increased growth of imported produce, a new study claims.

Titled “No Longer Home Grown,” the 28-page report was released by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform, two groups advocating for immigration reform.

“American consumers want fresh U.S. grown fruits and vegetables, but our farmers don’t have the labor force available to meet that demand,” John Feinblatt, chairman of the Partnership for a New American Economy, said in a news release. “This means more produce is imported, and our economy loses millions of dollars and thousands of jobs every year. We need to pass immigration reform now, so our food remains homegrown and our economy strong.”

The growth in volume of imported fresh produce from 1998 to 2012 totaled 38.8%, compared with 1.4% growth in domestic production over the same period. Imports accounted for 28% of all U.S. spending on fresh produce in 2010-12, up from 15.7% in 1998-2000.

Data for the report was compiled by Steven Broners, a senior economist at Welch Consulting, according to the release.

“On the issue of farm labor, we have a growing amount of evidence that all points in the same direction: Farmers and consumers both need responsible immigration reform,” American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said in the release.

According the report:

  • Labor challenges and problems with the H-2A visa program are a key reason why growers have been unable to maintain their share of the domestic market;
  • As much as $3.3 billion in missed gross domestic product growth in 2012 was caused by a lack of agricultural labor, and accounts for $1.4 billion in farm income that wasn’t realized that year;
  • Imported produce eaten in the U.S. has grown by 79.3% in recent years; and
  • Fresh produce consumption in the U.S. has grown in recent years, but production levels have either barely grown or declined.


The report, according to the release, is part of the #iFarmImmigration campaign that has brought more than 70 of the largest agriculture groups together with the Partnership for a New American Economy to lobby for immigration reform.

Fred Leitz, chief executive officer of Leitz Farms LLC, Sodus, Mich., was quoted in the report about labor shortages in 2013 that left up a substantial portion of what he planted still in the ground.

In 2012, Leitz could find only about 180 of the 240 workers he would typically use.

Leitz said his farm is cutting acreage this year because of last year’s labor shortages.

“We didn’t get about 30% of our tomatoes and the same way with cucumbers in 2013, and we left some apples,” he said. “Going into 2014, we are going to cut back some acreage; we are going to plant rye and cover crops and just see what happens.”

The core of migrant farm workers returning to work at his farm has shrunk by about 25% in the last couple of years, Leitz said. A reviving U.S. economy may be taking some workers away from agriculture, he said.

Many growers don’t believe the agricultural guest worker program is a viable solution because of delays and costs associated with the program, Leitz said.

Leitz said he has been working for immigration reform for nearly 20 years. Republicans will lose their agricultural base if they don’t move to support immigration reform. he said.