(Dec. 12) If necessity is the mother of invention, no wonder there’s been little real pressure on government to address the agriculture labor problem.

American consumers still find plentiful, good quality fresh fruits and vegetables at reasonable prices in grocery stores and restaurants. “What labor problem?” they ask.

It’s hard to argue with them.

Suppliers have warned everyone within ear-shot that they don’t have enough labor to harvest crops. The latest cries come from the Nov. 30 Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association meeting and the Dec. 5-7 annual meeting of the Washington State Horticultural Association.

Grower-shippers in Yuma said many harvesting crews are limited to half the workers needed to pick area crops, with border patrol agents apprehending illegal immigrants that used to spend their days in Yuma-area vegetable fields, returning home at nightfall.

But supplies and prices haven’t been affected. Ah, there’s the rub.

The American consumer is a practical beast. He doesn’t notice a problem until it affects him. There’s a fuel problem? He didn’t notice until gasoline hit $3 a gallon. A battle against terror? It didn’t really register until a few planes flew into a few big buildings. An obesity problem? Not until his waist size on his pants went up eight sizes.

The produce industry should expect no different reaction to this labor issue.

President Bush presented his plan in late November for illegal immigrants to be on a visa program. There are about a half dozen proposals before Congress right now, but many observers don’t expect much movement until after the November 2006 election.

Maybe the public will announce its concern with the immigration issue in that election. Maybe another terrorist attack will throw a bigger spotlight on the nation’s porous borders.

In the meantime, as long as the industry keeps producing good quality fruits and vegetables at low prices, don’t expect any urgency from politicians or the public.