Mr. Cruz, It's the Small Things One Says

By Joe Sigg, Arizona Farm Bureau Government Relations Director: In character for the movie “Open Range,” Annette Bening explains it is the small things men say and do … little signals that makes a woman form a judgement. And so it is with political candidates … sometimes just the things they say. And no, this time it is the other one: Ted Cruz

At a town hall last week in Wisconsin about immigrant labor:  “In the agriculture world, I think the first option should be trying to find American workers. Now that may mean wages come up. It may mean that we have to use more tools. We've seen in Arizona that has happened,” Cruz said. 

I know. It’s a political campaign – sooner or later candidates say things and they just don’t have the slightest clue as to what they are talking about. They must have an answer, whether it is answering a different question with their answer or whether they are just plain wrong … or worse. Perhaps better feeding and care would contribute to longer and more productive public lives. Improved nutrition from the bounty that is American agriculture might help the critical thinking process.

So the choices for American agriculture are (1) hire more Americans – does that include just the native borne or do naturalized citizens count; (2) pay them more; (3) if all else fails, mechanize. Now I could play the “I take great offense” card. However, we are supposed to give a little leeway to those who are not quite up to speed, but I will say politicians who talk this way are not giving credit to the businessman who inhabits today’s agriculture.

For the most part their entire net worth is heavily invested in just this year’s production, and they readily embrace every scientific and technological advance they can to minimize their costs and maximize their production.  Modern agriculture produces more on less and with less and with less invasive inputs. They understand global markets and just as clearly they understand that countries are either immigrant sending or immigrant receiving in the global labor market … and for the U.S. economy to grow, and for all of the attendant problems, we must embrace the flow of immigrants.

Our country has a history of embracing and then rejecting and marginalizing immigrants. Perhaps Mr. Cruz is playing to that theme?

We continue to pay more wages and the cost of our product is factored into global competition. And we can produce a beautiful crop of lettuce but we cannot manufacture the labor or the technology to care for it. Paying more does not necessarily translate into labor availability at particular times and places. And while it is not simply harvest, but imagine the very high tech engineering involved to match the hand-eye coordination of harvesting iceberg lettuce and then try to use the same machine for romaine? We grow everything in Arizona from artichokes to zucchini. Robotics and technology will play an ever increasing future role, but Mr. Cruz do you need three squares tomorrow and at what price?

So, I tell a candidate that one of my issues is to fix a badly designed and poorly executed visa system, and he processes that; in response he tells me how to run my business. I already know that.  Annette Bening was onto something.

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