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How Donald Trump's Presidency Could Seriously Threaten Our Food Supply

Illegal immigrants fill a large portion of the country’s farm labor supply—at least 50 to 70 percent. And Trump wants to deport them all.
Photo via Flickr user Charlton Clemens

Back when Donald Trump announced his campaign in June of last year, not too many people thought we'd be talking about the real possibility of a Trump presidency less a year later. After all, how could we have possibly fathomed his plan of finding and deporting 11 million illegal immigrants, or building a 55-foot wall (to be paid for by the Mexican government) to keep them from coming back—or that a person who makes dick jokes at a Republican debate on national TV could possibly have a shot at the Oval Office?


Well, here we are. And if some of those ideas sounded (and still sound) like bad ideas to you, you're not alone. According to Quartz, if Trump were to deport all of the illegal immigrants in the United States, we would face a widespread shortage of farm workers and a serious threat to food security.

Illegal immigrants fill a large portion of the country's farm labor supply—at least 50 to 70 percent. It's not easy work: Farm workers tend fields in hot climates, doing backbreaking labor. And in most cases, they're paid only $10,000 to $20,000 each year, according to Phillip Martin, an agriculture and resource economist at University of California, Davis.

It's dangerous work, too. Farm workers account for just 3 percent of the workforce nationally but 13 percent of all workplace fatalities, according to the Health Initiative of the Americas, a policy research center focusing on immigrant health based at the University of California, Berkeley.

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And though Big Ag has led to mechanized farms where massive combines comb corn fields that stretch as far as the eye can see, many of our favorite foods—such as nuts, fruits, and vegetables—need to be harvested by hand. For the near term, this isn't a problem that can be fixed by better investments from city-slicker billionaires.

So if Trump were elected and somehow managed to successfully and thoroughly carry out his deportation plan, there'd be a real and devastating labor shortage. The American Farm Bureau Federation, an agriculture industry group, estimates that agricultural output would fall by $30 to $60 billion if illegal immigrants were removed from the labor force.


Immigration has begun to slow recently, and even before that there were already agricultural workforce shortages. Partnership For A New American Economy, a group that supports looser immigration policies, estimates that thanks to ongoing labor shortages, the US missed out on a 9.5 percent increase in vegetable and fruit crops between 2002 and 2012, valued at $3.1 billion per year.

The agricultural industry is an $835-billion-dollar business, of which $177 billion comes from farms. "The immediate loss of this large a share of the general work force would cause economic chaos," the Farm Bureau said in a report. The report says food prices could rise by up to 6 percent, and farms could produce 15 to 30 percent less in vegetable crops and 30 to 61 percent less in fruit. Meat production could fall between 13 to 27 percent.

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In one example from the past week, a farming corporation in South Carolina was fined $1 million for hiring between 300 and 350 illegal workers between 2010 and 2013. As is the case nationally, where Mexicans account for the majority of illegal immigrants, most of the workers were from Mexico or Guatemala.

Critics have often pointed out that some of Trump's plans are shortsighted at best, and focus on the improbability or impossibility of carrying them out. But going a bit further down the list of consequences would give them something else to chew on—or not.