(Raleigh News Observer) On more than 10,000 acres of drained swampland in western New York, Maureen Torrey’s family farm grows an assortment of vegetables in the dark, nutrient-rich soil known as “Elba muck.” Like other farms in the area, Torrey Farms of Elba, N.Y., depends on seasonal labor, mainly undocumented field hands from Mexico, to pick, package and ship its cabbage, cucumbers, squash, green beans and onions throughout the nation.
With the peak harvest season at hand, Torrey’s concerns about a labor shortage are growing. A crackdown on illegal immigration, more job opportunities in Mexico and rising fees charged by smugglers are reducing the number of workers who cross the U.S. border illegally each year to help make up more than 60 percent of U.S. farmworkers.
The American Farm Bureau Federation projects $5 billion to $9 billion in annual produce-industry losses because of the labor shortages, which have become commonplace for farmers such as Torrey, who said there were 10 applicants for every job five years ago.
“In the last year that wasn’t the case,” she said. “We hired anybody that showed up for field work. It’ll be interesting to see how many people we have knocking on the door this year.”
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