California farmers say they need to hire immigrants, many here illegally, to help harvest labor-intensive crops such as strawberries.
Drought may be withering their crops, but farmers in California and beyond say they face as great a threat far from home: inaction on immigration reform.
House Republicans are balking at immigration legislation, but agriculture’s biggest lobbying group said reform can't wait.
The American Farm Bureau Federation released a report Monday predicting what would happen over the next five years if Congress did not offer legal status to farm workers and instead focused on deporting them – a path supported by Tea Party members and other conservatives.
"The agricultural industry alone would lose $30 to $60 billion in agricultural output if Congress choose to do an enforcement-only approach," said Kristi Boswell, who directs congressional relations for the Farm Bureau.
The organization projects that food prices would go up during the same period - by as much as a 6 percent. Boswell said there would be less help for harvesting crops, meaning more produce would have to be imported.
"Farmers can stand together and understand the pain the farmer feels when their crop is rotting in the field because they have no way to get it out, and that’s the situation we’re in now," Boswell said.
Boswell said inaction on immigration holds particularly grave consequences for California, whose farms demand 400,000 to 500,000 workers during peak harvest. A 2012 report by the California Farm Bureau found that 71 percent of tree fruit growers, and nearly 80 percent of raisin and berry growers, faced a shortage of workers.
The Farm Bureau report comes days after House Speaker Boehner expressed little hope of immigration legislation passing this year.
The farm lobby joins other pro-immigration business interests traditionally aligned with the Republican Party - such as the Chamber of Commerce - in saying they will keep on the pressure.
Read the report here: