Pushing Immigration "Reform" With More Odd Concern for Agri-Business

More strange bedfellows: In order to push immigration "reform," the Times again shows unusual sympathy for agri-business. The front of Tuesday's Metro section is dominated by Joshua Brustein's "With Migrant Workers in Short Supply, A Farmer Looks to Machines." It's about the tragedy of Singer Farms cutting down its cherry trees for fear he couldn't hire anyone to harvest the cherries, all because of the federal crackdown on illegal immigration and the uncertain future of "reform."

(Back on April 2, a similar Times story overdramatically claimed the new politics of immigration had put a Pennsylvania farmer "out of business," when in fact he took himself out of the tomato-growing business and planted less labor-intensive crops instead.)

From Brustein's Tuesday story from Singer Farms in Appleton, N.Y.:

Scores of Jim Bittner's cherry trees are now just heaps of roots and sticks, piled in his fields here along Route 18. Some of the branches lying on the ground are dotted with small blossoms, the season's earliest evidence that sweet cherries were on their way. But for Mr. Bittner, having sweet cherries would have meant hiring someone to prune the trees and harvest the fruit, and he was not sure that he could do it this year. So he cut his trees down.

We always assumed we could find the labor we would need," said Mr. Bittner, who has managed Singer Farms since 1991. "We're not making that assumption anymore."

Mr. Bittner said he was planning to grow blueberries, or tart cherries for use in pies, because those crops could be harvested by machine and did not require migrant workers.

Others managing the fields and dairies of western New York State are starting to make the same calculation. For the last several years, crackdowns on illegal immigrants and the lack of comprehensive immigration reform have increased anxiety among the region's farmers, many of whom rely on a migrant labor force from Latin America to work their fields. Some have begun making changes in their operations to reduce their reliance on that labor force.

Notice that the situation isn't quite as dire as the accompanying stark photo of fallen trees would have you believe - the farm is merely replacing one fruit with another.

At least one food-processing company claims that it is already having trouble buying produce in the quantities it needs. Great Lakes Kraut, based in Shortsville, N.Y., which relies heavily on farmers in western New York for the cabbage it ferments to make sauerkraut, has been able to buy only about 80 percent of what it needs this year, according to the company's vice president, Ben Frega. That will not lead to a shortage of sauerkraut, but Mr. Frega said it did play a role in a 10 percent price increase.

"It's been more difficult to secure our crops than any year I can remember," Mr. Frega said.

There are no data on the number of farmers changing crops because of the labor problem. Farmers' organizations and state officials said that only small numbers of farmers were making major changes and that there was no immediate threat of major disruptions in local agricultural markets.

But experts monitoring New York's agricultural industry said that the shift away from labor-intensive crops would accelerate if the uncertainty over migrant labor and immigration policies remained unresolved. (On May 20, an attempt by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California to attach a guest worker program to an Iraq spending bill failed.)

Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies found the storyrisible, writing at National Review Online:

Another NYT story on the horrific consequences of immigration enforcement. It focuses on a farmer in Upstate New York who is being forced by brutal and inhuman market forces to plant blueberries instead of sweet cherries, because the former can be harvested by machine. Oh, the humanity!