Employers & Employment, Wages

Opinion: Farmer Gets Tiny Portion of Food Dollar

From Coloradoan.com, Andy Grant, 11 Aug 2011.

In his July 30 letter to the editor, Philip Cafaro criticized Grant Family Farms for the rate it pays hourly workers. While we disagree with Cafaro’s point of view, we are delighted that the Coloradoan found the topic of farm labor worthy of discussion.

The market for fresh vegetables in the United States is extraordinarily competitive. Much of the competition comes from abroad, where farm workers are paid but a slight fraction of the norm on our home soil.

Where a Colorado farm worker may earn $100 per day or more, a farm worker in Mexico earns $6 per day. Naturally, this creates a very difficult competitive environment for American farmers. At the same time, consumers enjoy the benefits in the form of low prices.

It is important to recall and consider that in reality consumers, not farmers, set farm workers’ pay. The cost of farm labor is simply passed on to consumers.

Let’s say that a cucumber sells for $1 at your local supermarket. On average, 35 cents of that dollar goes to the farmer. Of the 35 cents, 21 cents is spent to acquire seed, farm and transport the cucumber; 13 cents is spent on labor to tend to the growing, and harvest. Less than 2 cents of that $1 goes to the farmer.

If consumers want farm workers to be paid higher wages, they must be willing to pay higher prices to the farmer.

Based on a recent pay period, Grant Family Farms paid an average wage of $9.44 per hour for its 256 hourly workers. This includes our share of Social Security, unemployment and workers compensation benefits.

While some new, entry level workers receive minimum wage of $7.36 per hour ($8.43 with the previously mentioned benefits), many hourly workers received considerably more, up to $18.25 per hour for skilled positions.

Several of our employees started as minimum wage farm laborers but have advanced and now draw salaries in the upper five figure range.

We do not look to the federal government for help as Cafaro implied by comparing the farm labor crisis we face to circumstances that led to recent bank bailouts. We grow vegetables mostly, called “specialty crops” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which are not eligible for nearly all federal assistance programs, including crop insurance.

Our payroll alone contributes $4 million of economic benefits to our community, not to mention the multiplier effect of several times.

So, when we cannot access enough farm workers, it not only hurts our farm, but it has a very measurable negative economic impact on our community.

We ask Colorado’s elected officials to get to work and help solve the very real farm labor crisis in America. Please resolve immigration policies (that have been avoided for the past 20 years because of partisan bickering), so that there is an available supply of skilled workers for America’s farmers.

Grant Family Farms is proud of the employment opportunity it provides to its workers and to the economy of Larimer County. We also are very proud that we honor, appreciate and respect our workers. We try our best to be a conscientious, good business that is committed to our employees and our community.

When people engage the local economy, such as the members of our farm’s community-supported agriculture program and other CSA’s, it begins to change the paradigm of the proportion of the food dollar that goes to the farmer. We thank those who support local food, you begin to make a difference.

Andy Grant owns Grant Family Farms.

Source: Coloradoan.com, “Farmer gets tiny portion of food dollar” by Andy Grant, 11 Aug 2011.

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