Farm-Labor Crisis under COVID-19 Sends Countries Scrambling

Miserable, crowded living conditions of Europe’s foreign farm workers put them at much greater risk. And they’re staying away.

By Nick Corbishley, for WOLF STREET:

In one of the many paradoxes of the new world we live in, Western European countries that have seen millions of jobs wiped out in a matter of weeks are now facing an acute shortage of agricultural laborers.

Farmers in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the UK and other parts of Western Europe have come to rely on huge numbers of cheap labor from Eastern Europe, North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa. Now, those workers are either no longer able to make it to the farms or are choosing to stay with their families in their home countries.

This is leading to an “alarming” shortage of farmhands, warns the EU in an as yet unpublished report. The report blames the shortage on two main factors:

  • The restrictions on the movement of workers between EU countries to combat the spread of Covid-19;
  • And the miserable, crowded living conditions in which many imported farm workers live, which put them at much greater risk of contracting the virus.

In Spain a record 900,000 workers dropped off Spain’s social security register of employees in the last two and a half weeks of March, yet farm associations are complaining that they’re short of over 100,000 workers to help pick the fruit, vegetables and tobacco that are now ready for harvest.

“Vineyards are paralyzed because there’s no one to install the conduction system; there are no day laborers to prune the olive trees or remove the weeds in the onion farms; there are not even enough hands to tie the garlic bundles”, says agricultural engineer Arturo Serrano. “All of these crops have work cycles that are governed by nature and cannot be postponed.”

In France, the EU’s biggest agricultural producer where food and rural life form an integral part of popular culture, the government’s rallying cry for local citizens to fill the labor gaps on the country’s farms appears to have been more successful. Some 240,000 freshly furloughed workers have already signed up for the government’s “Des bras pour ton assiette” (Arms for your plate) campaign, partly as a means to get out into the country and escape the confines of their home. Five thousand volunteers have already been put to work.

In the Southern Spanish region of Huelva, where many of the strawberries and other summer fruits are grown and picked, to be consumed in Western Europe, the living conditions on some farms are so deplorable they have been likened to modern-day slavery. In some cases the laborers, mostly from Sub-Saharan Africa, are not even provided with accommodation. Shunned by landlords in neighboring villages, they have little choice but to build makeshift shelters, which rapidly mushroom into shanty towns that have no access to running water or electricity.

Now, many of those workers have failed to turn up for the harvest season, leaving farmers little choice but to source their labor locally. The problem is that most locals don’t want to work on farms under those conditions anymore. Even in areas blighted with eye-watering levels of unemployment such as Huelva (24% before the virus crisis), many locals would prefer to stay on the dole or try to find work in industries that pay better — farmhands can be paid as little as €5 an hour, less than Spain’s legal minimum wage — and offer greater job security. Now, thanks to Covid-19, those slightly better paid, slightly more secure jobs no longer exist.

At the beginning of April, Spanish farm groups lobbied the government to make it legally possible for furloughed workers to work on farms near where they live and continue receiving their unemployment benefits. The government quickly obliged, meaning the farmers now have a new army of low-paid, taxpayer-subsidized workers at their disposal. But according to El Confidencial, the response has so far been disappointing. Not enough people have signed up and of those who have, many only last a day or two in the fields before throwing in the towel.

Spain is Europe’s fourth largest exporter of agricultural produce, behind the Netherlands, France and Germany. In 2018, those exports exceeded €50 billion. With the country’s all-important tourism industry on hold for the foreseeable future, these exports take on an even bigger role.

In Germany the government has tried to circumvent this problem by using Lufthansa’s vast excess capacity to fly in 80,000 seasonal farm workers from Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Hungary over the next two months. Upon their arrival, the workers are subject to medical checks. Then they must live and work separately from other farmhands for two weeks and wear protective gear. The government also hopes to source an additional 20,000 workers from among Germany’s unemployed, students and resident asylum seekers.

In the UK, farmers say they need to find some 70,000 seasonal workers to make sure the crops are picked this year. Many of them will have to be sourced locally. As in Spain, furloughed workers have been given the green light to take second jobs in the sector while their current jobs remain in limbo. There has also been a major hiring push to “Feed the Nation” that has already landed more than 27,000 applicants. But only about 4,300 of them have so far taken up the offer of an interview.

How many of those applicants will actually be able to hack the physical and mental demands of fruit or vegetable picking is a whole other question. I speak from direct experience: in my early teens I spent four or five weeks of three consecutive summers picking courgettes and spring onions, all in the name of earning a little extra pocket money. Even at that age, it was backbreaking, mind-numbing, spirit-sapping work though it did toughen me up and teach me the value of money. That said, I would never want to have to do it again.

If farmers in the UK, Spain, Germany and other parts of Europe want to attract enough hard working locals to pick their crops in the coming weeks, they may have to take the heretofore unthinkable step of actually raising wages. Hiring unemployed locals by paying, say, twice as much as the imported African or East European labor they usually hire and providing decent working conditions would be a good way not only to address the labor shortage but also to put to use the untapped resources of local communities.

While farmers, their lobbies and the EU may caution about the risks of rising food prices resulting from the current labor shortage, the impact of increasing the unit costs of farm labor should be relatively minimal.

The lion’s share of the retail price of fruit or vegetables is added after the farm-labor input, by the players in the entire supply chain, and particularly by the big wholesalers and retailers, which for years have been systematically squeezing farmers’ margins. But this time, these wholesalers and retailers would be caught between slightly higher costs and intense consumer resistance to higher retail prices — and that wouldn’t be the worst trade-off to keep farms operating. By Nick Corbishley, for WOLF STREET.

Never before have so many property funds shut the doors on so many property investors. Read… Lockdown Hits UK Commercial Real Estate, Retail Landlords & Their Investors: Most Property Mutual Funds Suddenly “Gated”

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  149 comments for “Farm-Labor Crisis under COVID-19 Sends Countries Scrambling

  1. 2banana says:

    How did America and Europe feed themselves for hundreds of years before the 1970s/1980s?

    It is a mystery.

    “Even in areas blighted with eye-watering levels of unemployment such as Huelva (24% before the virus crisis), many locals would prefer to stay on the dole…”

    • sierra7 says:

      The US before the years u mentioned “fed itself” not only from expanding larger corporate ag but with thousands of smaller farms that surrounded most towns and cities. Those smaller “row crop” farmers along with the fruit orchards, eating grape fields fed hundreds and hundreds of “wholesale markets” both local and regional.
      It was one of the most vibrant businesses in the country. And most of those regional wholesale markets were truly “open markets” dealing in fresh products shipped in 6-7 days and nights each week.
      There was millions of acres of very good ag land to support those farms and millions of farm families that toiled that valuable land. And, supported by the millions of migrant individuals and families that in many cases followed the harvests across this country.
      All that changed in the 1960’s when the major real estate people began following the example of the “suburban” living program and acquired slowly but surely millions of acres of that prime land to convert to housing to live the “American Dream”.
      And, the changing retail environment that pushed hundreds of thousands of small retail stores out of business by the emerging and rapidly growing “chains”.
      And, today we have what we have. Millions of acres of precious productive farm land paved over or “housed over”; our small businesses devoured by the large chains; millions of migrants still fighting for better working conditions and the argument that the US families can’t pay more for their fresh foods.
      In my opinion this is a social disaster that may come to haunt society sometime in the future. It literally breaks my heart to see what we have done to so much productive soil that took hundreds of millions of years to give to us. And, we trashed so much of it.
      That’s how we fed the people in those years.
      How do I know?
      I was part of that class of individuals.

      • Steve says:

        Real Estate didn’t cause the problem. Automation did. Farming became extremely automated though it may not seem as such but look at the farm productivity over the past several decades. Farm output increased 20x fold while labor inputs dropped to now roughly 4% of the labor force works in Ag.

        The problem with automation is as with all non-linear growth models, everything hits the mathematical limits and we just don’t need people to product; only to consume.

      • Deanna Johnston Clark says:

        Well said!! Can’t add a thing!

      • Canadian says:

        The food we have is more varied, higher quality and lower cost than in the “good old days.”

      • Wendy says:

        Thank you.

    • John Taylor says:

      I think agricultural tariffs are key. The whole modern system of Laissez-Faire Globalism created this situation from both ends:
      Companies were enabled to push working conditions to slave-like levels by importing non-citizens with few or no rights.
      Companies had to compete directly with the lowest-cost producers, in third-world countries with no environmental or worker protections, and wages had to be minimal in order to make the cost structure work.

      • char says:

        The US does not really import lettuce, apples etc. so tariffs don’t have an important effect. The working conditions in third world countries are not a reason why agri work isso lowly paid in the US

    • Craig says:

      @2 bananas

      About half as many people. Living wages for farmworkers and everyone else.

      Gypsies were key. Since they bought their own house and mostly worked in the summer they went wherever extra hands were needed.

      Also work gangs where people were bought in from winter seasonal activities to help with harvests. This is also why the summer holidays are so long. Originally to free up children for the harvest. None of the parents are going away now. Plenty of people to farm.

    • Engin-ear says:

      Simple. There was no alternative job in industry for every peasant.

      By the way, in the current situation, if we let market forces play, food prices will go up.

      If we block the prices, food shortages will go up.

      Make your choice.

    • Farmer John says:

      What I don’t see here is that farmers in USA don’t want ‘honkeys’ to do anything, they want hispanics, same for the restaurants.

      No matter where you go winerys, grapes, or hops beer, or planting new baby trees post clear-cut timber, everybody wants a ‘mexican’ that does piece work, meaning they work for what they get done, and one man can do the work of 10 gringoes (fact)

      Been this way now for 40+ years.

      Now what is happening is they make good money, but they don’t want to die here in the USA, so now they just go back home and relax and wait out the ‘flu’, they’ll be back, in their own private cars drive to the work-site, you don’t even see buses anymore as they all make +200 USD/day. ( Take that example picking flats of peaches, at $5/flat, and 40 flats a day perfect picking no bruises, the meth-crowd couldn’t help but drop every other peach )

  2. Julius Baer says:

    I wouldn’t mind picking grapes but not for money. Maybe they should use robots instead or offer a good vintage.

  3. VeryAmused says:

    In my many decades, I have never had such an intense feeling that the world is about to spin out of control.

    I hope is it just the cabin fever talking.

    • Stephen says:

      I agree! We may end up as farm hands and Pickers. But, maybe many of us on the high end white collar side will end up having a greater appreciation of food and how it actually gets to our table. Yep, something is turning over the tables on our comfy civilization!!

    • thealicat says:

      Drove a combine on an AZ cotton farm, packed melons and trimmed bud – it is all backbreaking, mind numbing work in the sweetest conditions. I dont believe many Americans are physically up for it, honestly.

      • IdahoPotato says:

        Some of our clients (vineyards and dairy farms) have tried to get more Americans on the workforce over the past few years and have failed miserably.

        • VintageVNvet says:

          I hear ya Idaho,,,
          and I will admit it’s been several decades since I have done the work on the farm and in the fields and chicken coops and barns and pig yards,,,
          but, in fact, it is not really that hard of work,,, does not compare, for instance, with digging ditches, pick and shovel, all day, swinging a pick all day in a mine,,, nor any of the other types of really hard manual labor that goes on every day in our forests by most working there,,,
          Time and enough for all of We the People to re-connect with all of the sources of our food, etc., and do the best we can to implement the very clear directives of nature of the basic foundations of a healthy life style, labor to produce our food,,, labor to ensure the quality of our air,,, labor to ensure the quality and availability of our water. Etc., ETC.

        • Dave Kunkel says:

          I really get tired of this whining about farmers inability to find workers. They can’t find workers who are willing to work for what they’re willing to pay.

        • TXRancher says:

          When commodity prices rise to a higher level, then farmers can pay workers higher wages. Most commodity prices are still at the decades ago level. Most farmers are not living a luxurious life and at best only occasionally get a boom year. Other years they hope for small positive margins.

          And i can’t find anyone willing to build/repair fences, chop mesquites, palpitate cows, haul hay from the field, etc. It is hard work but you have to love it.

        • IdahoPotato says:

          @Dave Kunkel.

          Correct. Farmers should be willing to pay their workers more and consumers should be willing to pay more – much much more – for a gallon of milk.

        • Craig says:


          How much did they pay?

          Idaho living wage is $11.04 per hour.
          Poverty is $6.04.

        • rhodium says:

          Farmers can’t pay enough, because their product isn’t selling for a high enough price to raise wages in order to attract workers (barring people who need the money but od instead). Commodities are at multidecade lows. Supply and demand fundamentals suggest we have too many farms and too many farmers, otherwise prices would justify their existence.

      • Stuart says:

        Pay farm workers a living wage, unionize, eliminate the middle men. Labor shortage solved and no need for consumers to resist higher prices as they will be minimal.

        • Jdog says:

          Unions kill productivity. It is one of those ideas that sound good, but just don’t work.

          In the case of government workers, it has been a complete disaster.

        • No1 says:

          There’s more to life than productivity. Unions may actually help productivity if they raise wages leading to the introduction of labor-saving technology.

        • Craig says:

          @ Stuart That was a great idea 3-10 years ago. Now it would mean food shortages as the farms cant absorb the shock fast enough. Nor is there suitable quaratine locations.

          The only way is to set up caravan type emergency locations on the farms. Plus the Gov a) requires a living wage and b) tops up salary but reduces the top up by 10% a year after the crises )
          C) farms that don’t offer the right conditions and pay get nationalised.

          Add in hazard pay top ups as well.

    • Jc says:

      You are just seeing what has already been there. That fact it hasn’t already spun out of control over the past decades means its actually very resiliant.

      The push by the right to open up the economy fully recognizing the additional suffering it would create I find very disappointing to say the least. Anyone who wants to call me naive is welcome.

      • Ed C says:

        Gov Cuomo isn’t part of “the right” and he is pushing for it. Stop painting conservatives as meanies. Having the entire economy closed down is an unnatural state and can’t go on forever.

    • HD says:

      Unfortunately, for Americans there is an extra dimenson. You see, we’ve all seen the tragic images from countries such as Italy or Spain. But they are medium sized nation states, not superpowers claiming to occupy the moral or ideological high ground. Now, the entire world community has also seen the images of mass graves on an island in the Bronx, field hospitals in Central Park, health care personnel in New York hospitals dressed in garbage bags to protect themselves against the virus, nuclear powered aircraft carriers in active duty dealing with the virus onboard, crippling part of the crew, a president sparring with the press during his daily conferences, dividing people instead of rallying them around him to fight a common enemy. All of this has happened. In the United States of America. And I believe it has not passed unnoticed.

      Me personally, I’ve been watching these scenes from across the pond rather incredulously. Any other country can get away with such images, but for the US it is a devastating blow. This is a game changer and possibly the prelude to the US losing the privilege of the world reserve currency. And it is utterly ironic if not tragic that all this is happening on the watch of a man who gained entrance to the White House on “Make America Great Again”.

      • Anthony A. says:

        The President didn’t import the CV-19 (the Chinese virus) virus. And it’s evident that the “press” is focusing on attempting to find fault rather than just report the news.

        It’s no wonder in countries run by dictators that the press is “owned” by the dictator’s regime and only report what is “approved”. I suspect it will be like that here in the “good ol’ USA”one of these days.

        • char says:

          Xi was not patient zero either. The US is handling Covid extremely crappy and much worse than others.

        • HD says:

          @Anthony A.
          The point is not whether or not your president imported the virus (of course he didn’t), but how he handles the emergency and whether your country’s health care infrastructure is up to the task.

          Moreover, there are plenty of democratic regimes in the world currently dealing with COVID-19 (or the Chinese virus, if you like), where the press actively and critically reports on the efforts of their governments to contain it, but nowhere do I see the animosity in the relations that I see in those between the White House and the US press. Surely, that can not be solely attributed to bias on the part of journalists? Besides, in a time of crisis, shouldn’t a president lead by example and try to calm the mood?

        • Linn says:

          This is annoying at best. Stick to the subject of the farm labor need. Leave the racist comments for your own home. By the way, I am an Iowa born, Caucasian, female farmhand for my family. There are enough stresses for farmers whose lives and finances are on the line, without racist comments. I don’t care who our President is, what he says. Be responsible for your words.

        • fajensen says:

          The way it works in the USA is that the oligarchs has a ‘blue team’ and a ‘red team’ representing their interests; To play one team off against the other and boost their competition for the oligarchs favours.

          The media figured that this was a good way of organising things, so now they are hawkers for the ‘red team’ and a ‘blue team’.

          In fact, for the media and the consumers of media, there is only ‘Red’ or ‘Blue’: Any situation that cannot be cast into only two exact opposite and conflicting options is not ‘News’!

          (This also makes it easier to do A/B-split-testing on whatever outrage ‘engages’ the most click-throughs and add-views the most, and apply machine learning to the task of making ‘News’ items even more appalling and divisive.)

          Donald Trump, having personal experience with WWE and how the system of ‘Heel’ and ‘Face’ works, of course would be a natural performer in this environment!

          Making the entire country more appalling and divisive as ‘the News’ say it is, is maybe not what the USA really needs, but ‘two teams of peasants fighting forever over nothing of importance’, is exactly what was ordered by the oligarchs and Donald Trump is doing a good job, seen from a ‘Management perspective’.

      • Stuart says:

        It’s even worse than that. No Socialized medicine, economic depression, and the reincarnation of Herbert Hoover “ leading “ us. They used to call them
        “Hoovervilles “. Now we shall call them “ Trump towns “.

        • Craig says:

          >. No Socialized medicine

          Did you know Theodore Roosevelt tried to launch that.

      • sunny129 says:

        ‘ prelude to the US losing the privilege of the world reserve currency.’

        NOT in the near future!

        Replaced by which other currency?
        The least ‘dirty’ shirt will reign for than many calling it’s demise!

        Look at the $ shortage in the Euro dollar pools in trillions! Fed has become the World’s bank with SWAP lines to other Banks for US$!

        • char says:

          If there is a dollar shortage than people will start to use other payment methods.

      • NewOnThisBlock says:

        NYC today is not a first world country, it’s a combo of rent-seeking, communism and crony government. That Potter’s Field site you’re seeing on the news has been there for two hundred years, it’s just busier now. It’s also a way for the City to show how much they care about you, taxpayer.

      • Deanna Johnston Clark says:

        Medical simulation reports are coming out about those horror films.

  4. Arizona Slim says:

    During World War II, my aunt had a summer job on a farm. She was hired because the men were away at war.

    So, if my aunt can do it, so can modern-day Americans.

    • VintageVNvet says:

      EXACTLY correct ArizSlim:
      As one of the older than boomer folks commenting on this wonderful website, who did my share of the clearly challenging manual labor of my younger years,,, including carrying water in a back pack into the Great Cypress area to put out the ”peat” fires there,,,, about 3 miles round trip, when the call came to our high school in Naples for volunteers,,,
      IMHO, sooner or later, all folks everywhere, are going to have to do the manual labor work to bring the harvest to their tables, if for no other reason than that the ”migrant” labor will have come to understand how badly they have been treated.
      In fact, it is very unlikely that any other solution is anywhere near long term,,, and, other than the necessity, it certainly seems to me at this point that ALL folks will benefit from the labor AND, perhaps essentially, the more close connection to the sources of their food.

      • sierra7 says:

        There are big changes coming to the agricultural labor needs. As a former row crop farmer (see my post early on in the comments) so much work was done “manually”.
        I’ve followed the improvements to harvesting even the smallest crops such as radishes, green onions, parsley, etc…….(not strawberries and that kind yet) and it is amazing the machines that are in the development stages or outright developed and in production to do those jobs.
        AI in agriculture will make just as many “advances” to avoid human labor as any other money making enterprise.
        That is going to displace more millions of workers all over the world.
        “Progress” sometimes will be not advantageous but a wheel around society’s neck.
        Hope for the best.

        • Lisa_Hooker says:

          Long, long ago in a land not so far away I picked strawberries. I will never forget the pain of straightening up to leave as dusk arrived. And I was young and great shape.

    • Deanna Johnston Clark says:

      In Winchester, VA the Bahamians were flown up every Sept. to pick the apple crop. But the Labor dept in nearby DC was told by Nixon &co to deny them visas and hire local unemployed people in DC itself.
      The buses arrived and people came to Winchester, where I was in college and saw it.
      The locals hated it because the Bahamians spent money on gifts for their families and had delightful accents.
      The DC imports picked apples 1 day and never returned…nobody showed up for the buses. Post Haste the planes went to the Bahamas and visas were signed….so those big strong Bahamians with their accents and spending $$ came back. True story.

    • Linn says:

      You are right on!

  5. Joe Lalonde says:

    I can’t go outside due to all the by-laws that I may be breaking now. Even on private land, the by-laws will get you.

    • 2banana says:

      Does a “by-law” mean a mayor or a govenor just making up stuff because of “the virus!”

      For a law to be created, and enforceable, a very specific process must be followed.

      Cower all you want. Just don’t blame it on a law.

    • Joe Lalonde says:

      It is a $1000 fine to be closer than 6 feet of another person unless they live in the same household in some municipalities.

      • Keith says:

        The threat is one thing, the execution of it is entirely something else. If anything, police (in my area at least), seem to be pulling back rather than getting aggressive. I would use common sense, especially if you are on your own property.

    • Ed C. says:

      I confess. I’m a rebel. The local playground equipment is off-limits, marked off with police tape. I wait until dark to walk my dog to the playground and sneak past the tape to do some pull-ups on the monkey bars. The State closed down the gyms so this is how I get to still do one exercise. I don’t think I’m putting anyone else at risk. I’m 6’4″ and can barely reach that bar. I guess I could be looking at a fine if I get caught.

  6. Jdog says:

    Who is going to accept low wage labor intensive jobs when the government is paying more money to sit on your butt and do nothing?
    Socialism kills productivity and incentive, and will ultimately make the coming depression worse than it would have been without all the give away programs…

    • Keith says:

      And just wait until basic minimum income arrives!

    • Stuart says:

      The only give away programs are to the Capitalist. You are correct. These give away programs will make the Depression worse.

    • fajensen says:

      The exact people you want to hire, that’s who!

      When you see / or measure the money those people creates for the business, you will pay them better than ‘the government’ too, even if only out of self-interest.

      The ‘socialist’ government is therefore helping business by making the poor performers self-select so they don’t show up at your place to produce more CO2 for the office plants (which are plastic) or harassment suits for HR.

      If ‘everyone must work for nothing, even if it kills them’ was ever a good policy for a country, Pakistan and India would have been super powers for decades already!

  7. Just Some Random Guy says:

    How did farms manage to operate 20 or 30 years ago before they started relying on cheap foreign labor?

    • Jdog says:

      People had to work or die, and you are talking more like 70 yrs ago.

    • roddy6667 says:

      In CT, in the Fifties and Sixties, we had massive amounts of seasonal agricultural rorkers from Puerto Rico. Some Jamaicans would come to pick apples, but most of the migran workers were American citizens. Also, living and working on a farm was hard work and low income. Nobody wants to be poor, so the next generation chose a different occupation. I grew up on a small tobacco farm. Most of the small guys quit the business because the price of tobacco was too low to make a living. My father had a job at a factory in addition to being a farmer.
      I hav no sad feelings for dairy farmers who complain. Two thirds of their income is from government (taxpayer) subsidies because they produce much more milk than the demand. The consumer pays twice for a gallon of milk. Once at the store, and another time when he pays his taxes, but the hidden one is a big secret. If capitalism was allowed to flourish, only 33% of dairy farmers would be in business, and they would be producing enough milk to satisfy the demand. The price at the store would be higher. Poor people have food stamps and WIC, so it wouldn’t be a hardship for them. The net cost of milk to the middle and upper classes would be the ame. The welfare queens in the dairy theater would have to get real jobs.

    • sierra7 says:

      Just Some R. Guy:
      “Cheap” farm labor has been available throughout US history. Before “migrant labor” from the south Americas that “cheap” labor came from Europe in the form of European immigrants.
      They were not only recruited by private companies but were advertised to believe the American streets were just “paved with gold”….all they had to do was pick up the rewards!
      Filipinos, Italians, India Indians, Africans, so many others came here in droves to pick our crops.
      The picking of our crops by “foreigners” is not a recent phenomenon; it is part of our history.
      America is a nation if immigrants, by immigrants and for immigrants…..who choose to stay.

  8. Beardawg says:

    I am a musician. I normally work for food anyway. Show me a field, I will be there.

    • Jdog says:

      You call playing music work? You would be in for a rude awakening doing real work.

      • Ed C says:

        It takes real (unpaid) work and plenty of discipline to learn to play an instrument. I rather think I’d enjoy his work over yours.

      • Phil says:

        Jdog you would be in for a rude awakening trying to master a musical instrument! And if the guy makes a living at it, that means he’s real good.
        I’m a musician who does his own drywall, tiling, flooring, soundproofing, carpentry, plumbing… in my experience, the music is way more difficult to master.

        • Jdog says:

          LOL you really do not know what you are talking about.
          Doing those things on a hobby basis, is nothing, and cannot be compared to real construction work.
          On a real construction site, the pace of the work is back breaking. You are working as fast and as hard as you can all day long. When you get off work you are so tired and sore you feel like you are going to die. Now do that every day of your life and then tell me how hard strumming a guitar is….

        • Lisa_Hooker says:

          @jdog – My guess is that you’ve never practiced an instrument for 3-5 hours per day, 6 days out of 7. Then studied theory for an hour or three. Then listened, critically, to music that you needed to understand, not just hear.

  9. Julius Baer says:

    By the way, the value of money? Financial repression constitutes a de facto partial sovereign default. Maybe christo can use stitched bills to wrap NY up and conserve it for later? But the value of money? That’s the feeling that accompanies the decision to be more relaxed about risking money once you have more of it. That feeling is impressed differently for more affluent people. Basically by sitting and talking or listening during your dad’s meetings.

  10. Tom Jones says:

    There are going to be food shortages and sky high price this fall. Farmers here dumping milk, plowing back mature food. If any hope, citizens going to have to space themselves out in fields, and gather own crops. In US, not unlike for the supply of toilet paper; there are dual customers for food supply. Commercial: (1) like restaurants, cafeterias, fast foods, etc plus (2) home food from supermarkets. People aren’t eating any less, yet the food grown for buyers with commercial uses is being tossed. So shortages will ensue since all food is now being commumed from supermarkets. Won’t be enough. Same thing happened with toliet paper. Commercial uses dried up while home use increased, but commercial production doesn’t sell to supermarkets and store brand toliet paper producers maxed out with just in time deliveries. And seeing this as a short term issue, are not going to build new facilities to produce more. Commercial toliet paper producers are closing for lack of sales; Not being able to supply supermarkets. Exact same thing is happening with food. When people ate out at work, school, or for convenience, they also used toliet paper at those same places. Now it’s all done at home. The 40% consumption outside the home is gone, but was not compensated for in the super market stock of food which will need to increase by the 40% since that percent of food consumption outside the home doesn’t exist now. Nobody’s in charge here to consider this and correct for it, by adding the commercial foods and toliet paper production to the supermarket supply chains. We use the same amount but what we used to use outside the home, is being elimiinated instead of being added to inventory at our point of purchase which is now exclusively for home use, this is going to come back to haunt us, does anybody believe there are national stock piles of food anymore? No, of course not. So will run short on food by the amount we used to consume outside the home, which is now being dumped for lack of buyers.

    • Kent says:

      This is exactly where a responsible government would step. Pay the commercial producers to convert their factories for supermarkets. If you can’t get farm workers at $8/hour, kick in an extra $12/hour and see if people will work.

      Instead we’re going to print a trillion to fill big balance sheet holes made by bad bets at banks.

      • Steve says:

        And this is why is may be easy to stop an economy and very difficult to restart. All these conversions from commercial to retail and back will take time and money. Lost productivity and cash flow.

        By the end of May, June, July or whenever we start back up, may be too late. I’m not so sure a ‘responsible’ government wouldn’t have thought a bit harder than a rush to close up shop.

        Guess time will truly tell.

    • Daniel says:

      So why don’t supermarkets, Costco, etc, just sell the big commercial rolls, or bundles of collated towels of asswipe by the palletload? People can tear off what they need.

      • Pelican says:

        I can see how it won’t necessarily be very smooth (or easy logistically). Still if the choice is between dumping away all of that produce/commercial TP versus a shortage in a different sector, it does make sense to establish some temporary supply chains where there is a need.

    • cesqy says:

      In the past, I had the feeling almost half of prepared food was being wasted or left to spoil in the refrigerator. I got this idea from watching my picky kids and seeing the food leftover on restaurant tables. Also, many overeaters around. Hedonic food adjustments are being made in many lockdown houses and the result will be less food being wasted at the household level. I can’t wait for frost free weather to plant my victory garden.

    • char says:

      Supermarkets would need to sell 66.6% more, not 40%. But the sale channels are much more intertwined than you suggest.

    • Portia says:

      Gleaning was a big thing where I am, but it has completely fallen apart with the shutdown, and food shelves only offer processed food now. Farmers Markets and CSA farm shares are struggling to get permission for outlets and pickup. I thought that the vigorous local farm network was going to alleviate a lot of the pain for farmers and consumers alike, but they have to hammer on the govt to let them do what they do. I love the local produce, I eat a lot of veg, and this is not what I expected.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Tom Jones,

      Some of this stuff is already starting to show up in in supermarkets. I just bought some awesome bison steaks at our rundown Safeway that never before had bison steaks. They were cheap too. They were destined for restaurants and rather than dumping them, the supplier figured out how to get Safeway to buy them. It’s gonna take a while, but supply chains are not etched in stone.

    • Richard says:

      To add to your statement, a lot of farmers markets are being shut down due to the same social distancing rules. This is putting the small suppliers out of business, and will likely bankrupt the more leveraged entities.

      Even those with the best intentions are being shut down. This is a disaster.

      • Phil says:

        That’s too bad. It’s stupid really. Farmers markets were deemed essential in my state.

  11. I like your solution, pay them what it takes. Rather than subsidizing unemployment recipients, which is a violation of labor ethics. I am over 70 but I could pick vegetables for a couple hours anyway, and there are a lot just like me. They already want me to catch the virus and die, so i might as well get out there and do something. Just need a ticket across the pond.

    • Joe says:

      I take your tired of the She-man politics?
      Imposed by others without your consent?

    • RobertM says:

      Meanwhile new Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows is working with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to lower the wages paid to foreign farm workers in America. Why do I feel this will not go well?

    • 2banana says:

      Who are “they?”

      “They already want me to catch the virus and die…”

    • VintageVNvet says:

      Good one Ambrose,,, please keep on keeping on here and where you are,,
      Plenty of time and ease to remember the basic rule of the, to me, youngsters commonly referred to as ”boomers.”
      If you can’t be with the work you love,,, love the work you have in front of you.” Or some such, eh

    • Finster says:

      Paying people to not work is one way to keep them not working. It may have its benefits, but it’s not without its costs.

  12. Joe Lalonde says:

    New Ontario, Canada government laws are a mandatory 14 day self-isolation, no more than 5 people at any gathering and staying 2 meters apart unless your in the same household. Fines can be up to a million dollars for repeat offenders. Currently imposing the self isolation province wide.

  13. SometimesSkeptical says:

    Behold the beauty of the modern political “Get big or get out” system designed to kill small, independent farms run by politically independent farm families. Behold the price of efficiency, which dictates huge, unwieldy farms and giant monocultures that turn once-diversified farm tasks into a few types of hard, repetitive labor. Behold the virtues of putting farming into the hands of a few giant chemical and pharmaceutical and equipment manufacturers. While the laborers are chained to poverty, the farmers struggle to stay afloat, the public is looking for work and their future food supply is essentially held by a few giant monopolies, the CEO’s and shareholders are richly rewarded. Ain’t financialization of agriculture just the best thing for the economy and society’s wellbeing since sliced bread?

  14. c1ue says:

    I am curious as to how these shortages affect the “organic” part of the produce sector. Limousine liberals not affected?

    • Bookdoc says:

      How much work does it take to label a regular batch of produce “organic”?
      The elites won’t know the difference…

      • Bet says:

        There is or was a strict rule list in order to be called organic. Walmart of course tried to get them watered down.

        • cesqy says:

          Organic food is as nebulous a word as inflation is in economics.

        • Ed C says:

          Organic means fertilizing with dung and avoiding those ‘nasty’ chemical fertilizers. Sounds appealing doesn’t it? Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Ed C,

          “Someone correct me if I’m wrong.”

          Yes, you’re wrong. You can google what a farmer has to do to qualify produce, grains, or meat as “organic.”

    • Daniel says:

      The organic sector usually involves smaller local farms and dairies that can hire more quickly and locally. Organic earns more per acre, with the food being actually cheaper, when taking into account the deleterious effects of consuming pesticide residues in non-organic produce and meat.
      There’s more nutrition in organic food grown in mineral rich soil, so less of it is needed to feel full and receive proper nutrition.
      Plenty of local legal immigrants in America’s main ag state, California. Getting obese Americans out in the field for a day or two would be great exercise and would force wages up. Look what happened when Trump’s illegal crackdown made it “impossible to find labor”
      At the end of last year, the farm was short 50 workers needed to help peel, package and roast garlic. Within two weeks of upping wages in January, applications flooded in. Now the company has a wait-list 150 people long.
      “I knew it would help a little bit, but I had no idea that it would solve our labor problem,” Christopher said.
      He said the farm has been trying, without success, to draw new workers since 2014. Human resources frantically advertised open farm-labor positions, posting help-wanted ads online and urging employees to ply their networks for potential recruits. Nothing came of it. (Until wages raised).

      • c1ue says:

        Are you saying organic farms don’t employ migrant labor?
        Do you have evidence or is this just anecdote?
        Secondly, Christopher farms is not organic – they’re sold in my local grocery store. Garlic is a much higher priced item, per pound, than most of what you find in grocery stores vs. say, strawberries, lettuce or broccoli.

        • Daniel says:

          In California we have our own resident labor that is a step away from migrants, plus migrants who are legal and of course, illegals. Cities like Fresno, Bakersfield and Stockton have large numbers of former and current farm labor residents now that bought houses or rent.
          The idea of some Yuppie being forced out into the fields is of course ridiculous. However, construction workers, or day labor could definitely do this work.
          Where it gets interesting is when able bodied people on welfare have to work in the fields.
          Christopher Farms has organic and non-organic garlic.

          You do know that organic was the only segment of the food industry that is growing don’t you? Of course now, people will eat whatever they can get.

    • keith says:

      My guess is they will take what they can get. I live in an ag area in eastern WA state. Lot’s of farms, ranches, vineyards and orchards. Foodwise, we are in a get what you can. It has been improving steadily, but now you have the pork plant in SD shutting down and we have a local Tyson beef plant that has become the biggest source of COVID in our area. I suspect it will get worse before it gets better, especially as these plants warn that their shut downs will result is supply shocks.

  15. fjcruiserdxb says:

    Hopefully the prospect of earning £15 an hour on top of the dole money the UK government is offering will help reducing the shortage of workers.

  16. stan6565 says:

    8.4 million of “economically inactive” people aged 16 to 60, in the U.K.

    Just a bit less than one in a thousand need go to work and fill the agri gap.

    Priti Patel got it right. Importing cheap labour must stop. Get our own home grown lazies to lift the bum off the sofa. Switch off unemployment benefits and see how quick the vacancies fill up, with vigour.

    • char says:

      There are not that many 16 year old economically inactive people whose parents what to see them do this kind of work instead of going to school. Or 59 year old who are fit to do the job full time. Agri also pays incredible badly. And it is work for which you have to travel many miles. And it is a temp job, often very temp

      Political it makes great sense to say that we have so many people who could do the job but in reality it is not true.Even without the existence of benefits. Removing benefits would only lead to people moving out of England, with vigour.

      ps. Don’t forget that 100 years ago it was normal to spend 40% of your income on food. Now it is something around 15%, including latte’s

    • fajensen says:

      Priti Patel stopped at “getting it right” –

      In the UK of course nothing is actually done. From next year they can’t blame Brussels either. Or can they?

    • c_heale says:

      Priti Patel didn’t get it right. The people at the bottom of the labor market in the UK already work very hard for little money. They are far from lazy. They are exploited. The lack of workers to do agricultural and similar jobs is due to a combination of factors, low wages, not many available workers in the parts of the country that needs them, seasonal work, exploitative bosses, supermarkets not paying their suppliers enough, and work that is easily physically demanding. An added problem in the UK is that the top level of UK society is completely separate from the majority of people (due to a strong class system). All these problems need to be solved if people want to eat food produced in the UK.

  17. timbers says:

    Who needs food? I mean, we couldn’t possibly pay farm help enough that they would not have to live in squalor and spread virus amongst themselves and ourselves, and make decent wages. That would be wrong. Why, the CPI might explode an entire 0.3% in one entire month!

    You guys at Wolf Street have so many topics to pick from to write about.

    How do you do it? Where to start?

    Here is just one topic of many possible catastrophes on the horizon moving closer to us each day you might write about soon. This one will like affect almost every single one of us:

    Kennedy Stewart (Mayor of Vancouver) said the city could lose up to $500 million from its operating budget, which would be “absolutely devastating.”

    “If we lost half a billion dollars in revenue, we would have to really burn through all our stand-by cash we have, all our reserves, and we may even have to sell some city lands in order to meet all our obligations, so it’s a very serious situation,” he said.

    Expect just about every city and state government in the U.S. and Canada and countless other nations to experience similar.

    Meanwhile, Jerome Powell expressed his true inner love of what many folks here constantly call socialism (except it’s not):

    “…there will also be entities of various kinds that need direct fiscal support rather than a loan they would struggle to repay… the millions on the front lines: those working in health care, sanitation, transportation, grocery stores, warehouses, deliveries, security-including our own team at the Federal Reserve-and countless others.”

    He could have added agriculture farm workers, dotcha ya think?

    If Powell can get it, why do so many not?

    • sierra7 says:

      “Capitalism” cannot exist without the seasoning of a bit of “socialism”!
      Otherwise it destroys itself.

  18. Saylor says:

    When I was a younger man and ‘on the road’ I did work in orchards picking fruit. I can’t say it was fun nor cathartic, but it is not all that bad. And if you are being paid ‘piece work’ you can do it until you can’t, then you take a break. I think this current described problem may be a good thing. While perhaps some might not like the low(er) pay, the requirements for adequate clean housing is more than a reasonable request/demand that has been allowed to be ignored by resourcing very desperate people. The ‘union busting’ results are now to blame in part for the lack of workers. Moving back to regional food supply and a livable wage for said workers will impact food prices. But the larger picture could be considered an improvement. I have had upwards of 200 people under my bailiwick when I was a ‘suit’. I found people are not lazy and want to at least be seen as able and capable. They just needed guidance which is what management is supposed to be about (not just the bottom line of that quarter’s profit margins). So I don’t buy the argument that people on UE or welfare want to stay there. But it does seem to be the convenient excuse of some politicians.

    • 2banana says:


      Caesar Chavez, founder the National Farm Workers Union, was virulently against illegal alien immigration.

      For the items you stated above.

      • Daniel says:

        He even mounted a vigilante squad that patrolled the border and detained illegals. Wonder if the SF supervisors will take down the Ceasar Chavez (Army Street) signs now?

        “Travis Yancy, the sheriff of Yuma County, said the union had established a 100-mile-long “wet line” of tents set up to prevent illegal aliens from crossing the border and even bribed Mexican officials not to interfere. When the allegations were raised with Chavez, he acknowledged: “We had a ‘wet line;’ it cost us a lot of money, and we stopped a lot of illegals,” the paper noted.”

    • VintageVNvet says:

      Agree a ton Saylor,,,
      And, as an older than boomer guy, who first drove up the Salinas valley in late 60 era, and then many times in the last few years, I have been very very pleased to see the buses of the 60s era replaced by dozens and more cars and pick ups,,, and, more importantly, every harvest location now including portable toilets, hand and eye wash stations, and shade devices along with the vastly more efficient harvesting machines that the Union harvesters are using…
      It turns out that our efforts, including boycotts and street walks, and long long talks by Chavez and others have paid off for ALL of us, workers and consumers; our USA produce, at least when grown and harvested by United Farm Workers Union is THE best, and more importantly for me, and I suspect most others, THE Safest.
      IMO, We are making progress.

    • char says:

      Orchards picking fruit, end summer,piece work so in your own temp is not bending over, in the rain, on the assembly line, while near a big scary machine

    • c1ue says:

      How many years ago was this experience?
      It matters a lot, because minimum wage in the 1970s or 1980s, for example, was a lot better pay than minimum wage (or less) today.

  19. Joe says:

    In Toronto and other major cities that are enforcing the 6 feet social distancing laws fail to realize that unless you control the flow of people,then anybody passing by is breaking the law with each other as the sidewalks are too narrow. People have been fined if two people sit on their 4 to 6 foot benches.

  20. David Hall says:

    The farm workers in Immokalee, FL near the Seminole Indian reservation want a field hospital. It is an English as a second language area. There is lower demand for produce as shopping patterns changed.

    A pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, SD closed due after dozens of workers testing positive for COVID-19. It is owned by a Chinese company.

    Grocery store workers have become infected. Stores have been hiring replacements.

    • keith says:

      It may be a Chinese company, but supplies 5% of US pork. It is also not the only protein plant being shut down to virus concerns.

  21. Kim says:

    Here in Arizona people get I think it is $224 a week and the Feds are going to add over $600 a week and then they don’t want people going out looking for work as they may get infected so that is over $800 a week for up to 39 weeks I think I heard so you won’t get anyone here going to the fields.

    • Wolf Richter says:


      There is some misunderstanding here. To claim unemployment benefits, a worker must have been formally laid off by their employer, and the employer has to confirm that the person was laid off. The employer can contest the unemployment claim if the worker quit or was fired for cause, and then the employee will receive no benefits. The unemployment office and the company are in contact over this since the employer pays into the UI at a rate that is based on past layoffs.

      • Lisa_Hooker says:

        Apparently the government did not force the company to pay into the UI at a high enough rate. Who could have seen this coming? Anyone that could read and work numbers.

      • fajensen says:

        Thoroughly stupid system, IMO.

        When you fire someone or they quit, you’d want ‘the business’ to be over with, cleanly, and not spend a lot of energy on it (except maybe asking people why they quit).

        ‘Formally laying people off’, ‘disputing claims’ and ‘fired for cause’ is just Investing More in an already failed relationship and stirring grudges, like divorce lawyers wants you to do!

        In Denmark people get fired or they quit all the time, the unemployment office doesn’t care one bit what happened*. Much simpler, less bureaucracy and grief for all.

        *) Ok, If one quits, one has to wait 5 weeks for the first benefit payment, which actually doesn’t matter because everyone are paid one month behind.

  22. Iamafan says:

    Is anyone paying attention?

    My sister in law’s husband’s family from Arkansas remembers traveling to Washington State as kids fruit picking apples and cherries. His dad was a WW2 veteran.

    We can do that again. Nothing wrong with hard work. I do my own lawn and I just reseeded about an acre.

    • Paulo says:


      I just finished planting 135 hills of Russian fingerling spuds for our family of just two as the kids are now long gone. It felt pretty good, actually. Way more than we need, but then I started thinking about the supply chain and how sore my ass would be from kicking myself if things got worse by fall…. Anyway, we are still eating green beans and tomatoes from last year and I just finished scarfing down zuchinni bread over the keyboard. We grow just about all our vegetables and what we don’t eat the chickens fight over.

      Heartening news, seeds are hard to come by this year as so many are starting to plant gardens. The thought of a gym memberships makes me laugh, actually. Supper tonight will be leftovers with (drum roll) potato salad. :-)

      And for all you older folks (I’m just 64) my 90 year old neighbour is still gardening. I till his garden up every spring but after that he gets down to work. He spends 2 hours every morning in the garden and greenhouse, comes in for wine by 11:00, lunch at 12:00 sharp followed by a ‘siesta’. The rest of the day he wanders around Great inspiration!! He still cuts his own firewood.

    • Lisa_Hooker says:

      I quit being a grass farmer a couple of years ago when I looked at returns versus efforts. Fortunately I live in an unincorporated woods. I have been considering building a small putting green by the back porch.

  23. Brant Lee says:

    The dairy farmers have been dumping milk for weeks. Now the largest pork processing plant in the U.S. has to shut down because of more than 200 of its employees with Covid-19. Little or no coverage on finance TV. No big deal I suppose? America’s food only comes from the retailers on the stock market?

    • keith says:

      I suspect the lack of reporting is due to a fear of sparking a second wave of panic buying. Out here in Eastern WA, the Tri-Cities, the Tyson beef plant has been named as a source of COVID. There are other plants being shuttered, including in GA, if I recall correctly. It might be a time to double check one’s rations, as the TP crisis may morph once again.

  24. Ridgetop says:

    As a teenager in the 60’s when “Valley of Hearts Delight” name was still holding on, before it became “Silicon Valley”, my sister, brother, and other neighborhood kids, and I would get up early in the morning and cut apricots all day long for the season.
    We used that money we earned, for mad money. Parents could barely afford shoes for us for the new school year.

    With all the talk of forgiving student loans, the government and farmers should put together a deal that if that student works the whole summer they get a large portion of there debt forgiven.

    • char says:

      Student loans are so big that the money you make with farm work is insignificant. Though i could see a deal between farmers and students in which students give money to farmers and they say the students worked for them.

      • c1ue says:

        What char said. Working as farm labor wouldn’t even pay the interest on the average student loan, after minor things like food and taxes are paid out.
        Old people mistake the economic value of minimum wage in the pre-Reagan era with what it is today: which is that minimum wage hasn’t been adjusted for inflation for decades.

        • ridgetop says:

          Let me detail my thought further. “the government and farmers should put together a deal “. I am not talking about paying students minimum wage.
          The government is going to give farmers money anyways, a lot of it. Instead the government will pay down a large portion of the student loan (not tied to minimum wage) and not give money to the farmer, who just got there worker problem solved.

          Come on guys think outside the box!
          Old people! Jeez, give me a brake!

        • char says:

          But than you get into a situation that students pay somebody minimum wage to work as that student. Would be a win-win situation for student and minimum wage worker. Or the deal could be between the student and the farmer

  25. NoLoanForYou says:

    As a farmer, I just attempted to get a 10 year SBA (Small Business Association) loan at 3.75%. It was advertised as the first $10,000 is a grant, and the rest a loan. I have a $52,000 land improvement job I have a quote for that that will keep 4 people employed (from a different company) for at least 6 weeks. Upon finishing the paperwork online, there is a check box for excluded businesses to get a SBA loan. Farms are the only business who do not qualify. As such, I will wait until next year as the window is closing on Spring to do the land improvement before planting crops. I imagine millions of Americans are running into “check box” issues like me. I do not think all the programs out there are going to go as smoothly as Wall Street is dreaming. My only other choice is to borrow using my land a collateral, which is around 8% interest rates, not the 0.00% hedge funds borrow against the fed to drive the SP500 back to 3400 in a few months time. At some point, after the top 1% will ultimately own 100% of everything, we will be forced to change the system to trickle up versus trickle down as it will be proven that trickle down since 1980 has not worked for 995 of us debt slaves. For now, us peasants are just trying to survive.

  26. Saltcreep says:

    This is a great and timely article. I suspect land reform is in the picture in the long term. We need to get back to smaller scale, local, and more varied agriculture.

    A 2014 article by Farmers Weekly in the UK suggested a maximum of 100 productive harvests left in the soil based on nutrient depletion through modern agriculture, and a subsequent revision, which I believe I read somewhere, but currently can’t find, I seem to recall downgraded it to 60 years. A local soil expert who my parents (who, for some odd reason, decided recently to go off and live in the UK) hired to look at their garden, claimed that 40 years is a more likely estimate…

    The Gracchi in their time weren’t stupid, but they were dangerous to the incumbent powers!

  27. tom says:

    Even if you open everything tomorrow, you can’t stop the travesty already set in motion with this shut down. Hopefully we are able to feed all Americans.
    I work outdoors. Free time is outdoors. Freezer is full, wood pile is split and stacked, chickens are laying great…those that don’t make great soup.
    All guns have an ample supply of ammo. Fishing poles at the ready.
    Turkey season starts this week.
    I meet very few people my age, or the youngsters, that are capable of a complete day of physical labor…let alone a harvest season.

    • Em says:

      Just returned from splitting wood on a rocky slope where I”ve butted 3 large fir trees fallen in the last wicked storm. I can hardly move my arm but feel great – thanks to working all summers since I was 14. In the old country we were on patriotic duty every fall, taken out from school for 2-3 weeks to harvest carrots, potatoes, hops (!), apples, corn, depending on what gig the school got. The money was the schools – we got the experience. This was in the 70’s and 80’s. While studying electrical engineering, every fall we had to go and harvest grapes or corn after the official school started. The assistant profs were keeping score on how many baskets each team of 2 dumped in the trailer bin. The money went to the university. We paid no tuition but were severly selected through very tough admission exams. Having such upbtltinging I have no problem working any type of work when I have to – am just finishing the home that we bought on 7 acres agricultural land reserve in BC and we thoroughly renovated from ground up. Working young, learning to appreciate a hard day in the fields primed us well for these times. We keep 5 goats, 2 donkeys, 60 chickens, 3 geese and 3 hives, tend to fruit trees and 2 large veggy gardens, and do consult in engineering when we find contracts.

      It’s hard at times but worthwhile!

      • tom says:

        You will sleep sound tonight!

        No donkeys here. Wife has always wanted me to do hives. I rotate buckwheat into fields for weed control. My dad remembers buckwheat honey.

  28. motorcycle guy says:

    As Nick mentioned in his article, I, too, spent a summer picking cucumbers on a farm in Pleasanton, CA during my high school years. (While there were still a few farms left in Pleasanton). Years later I heard about working in the salmon processing plants up in Alaska (while I was attending college and paying for my education).
    I spent two summers working in Alaska on the Kenai peninsula. It was a great experience.

  29. Sea Creature says:

    >This is leading to an “alarming” shortage of farmhands

    Uh… pay more money then..

    Americans (teens, high school dropouts..etc) used to do these jobs in the USA until the farm-corps figured out how to hire illegals without penalty and how to bribe politicians to get migrants on visa’s to replace the Americans.

    Raise the pay to levels encouraging Americans to do the work (vs Mexicans or Guatamalans here illegally), and you’ll get plenty of takers.

    When I was in college lots of fellow students and friends used to do work like this. It was good money, before it was all taken over by illegals and migrants at sub minimum wage. And no, the price of food was not really any higher then either..

    • Sea Creature says:

      ..and yes, the article is about Europe not the USA, but the same rules still apply.. pay more to get your own citizens to do it, there’ll be plenty of takers, especially now..

    • Tony says:

      Man, where are you from? haha. Americans don’t want to work in the fields. I’m from Watsonville, Ca. The jobs are there for Americans to take regardless of the virus or not.

      Here’s the wages – 25 cents a flat for strawberries (commission) and you can choose to work hourly (but if you don’t keep up with their expectation. you’re fired) I know a lot of field workers over here. They are going full throttle with work right now because the they’re feed literally everyone and trying to keep the food banks stocked.

      • Sea Creature says:

        What does that come out per hour?
        Is there any health insurance and benefits for this hard work in the sun all day?

        ..didn’t think so..

        and I guess one can just get sacked (or not paid) once they are injured or can’t pick enough? (and can’t go to the doctor with the health insurance they don’t have..)

        yup, thought so too…

        And therein lies the problem..

        Of course big biz always say they offer the same jobs to the Americans as well as the Mexicans (at third world rates of pay) and wonder why the Americans don’t bite or why Americans won’t ‘work hard’.

        If the pay was so good, there’d be Americans (or Europeans in this case) lining up for the work. But there are not.. so it means it doesn’t pay enough and Big Biz has been using the illegals and migrants as a crutch all along for bigger profits…

        we don’t need anymore of that..

        let it rot in the fields until they raise the pay.. enough of third world pay standards for a subclass in (otherwise) developed countries..

        • sierra7 says:

          Sea Creature (and others):
          And to add….most labor laws that protect most American jobs are not applicable to agricultural labor. That is not an error; it is deliberate in order to keep ag labor cheaper and more vulnerable and “only” by using migrant labor, legal or illegal.
          Part of our horrid history.

        • Tony says:

          Do you not understand for you to have a cheap price that you are by definition exploiting someone’s cheap labor? It’s just the undeniable truth.

          Their health insurance is determined by their tax bracket. People act like the poor just get rung out to dry in America but that’s hardly the case. Hospitals can’t refuse patients and if you’re under a certain tax bracket it’s literally paid for through programs/grants/tax payers, etc.

          Most field workers are paid in cash and have fake social security numbers also

          I have a friend who’s actually a U.S. citizen but he uses a fake social security number just so he can claim tax exempt on his checks while working in the fields. I know it sounds bad but it’s just the way the agriculture business is.

      • Phil says:

        Americans work all kinds of difficult jobs. If the pay is right they will do it. That defeatist line is tired and inaccurate.

  30. Michael Gorback says:

    Food at the store gets scarce.

    Prices go up.

    Smart people who produce, process, transport food notice the higher prices and adjust accordingly. Unfortunately the centralized economic management fools try to fix it and make things worse.

    Suppose you have a natural disaster somewhere and gas supplies are low. Government reflex actions would include things like rationing or price controls to prevent profiteering.

    But suppose the price of gas was allowed to rise. If you were sitting on a tanker truck full of gas you’d head over to where the shortage was, make some good money, increase the supply of gas so prices would come down.

    People really are clever at adapting to problems and working out new approaches if you don’t get in their way.

  31. Cobalt Programmer says:

    Well, you can print money but cannot print food. Only <2% of US population is directly or indirectly involved in agriculture. Even in rural areas, kids think food comes from grocery stores. Lot of us are vegans who thinks shutting down pork plants is a very good thing! Given a small chicken lot of us cannot kill it (means the will not the procedure). Believe me! Have you seen a RAZORBACK? Most of us cannot cook and depend on the fast food drive thru… Food security and production is least of the priorities. How many of you know about USDA?

    Don't worry we have lot of government cheese stored in a location nearby you, biscuit from NABISCO, milk powder, SPAM (the other one), processed wheat, rice and several beans you don't eat.

    My question to you is, when the crisis hits, are you Francis Bacon or just eat bacon?

    • Lisa_Hooker says:

      Remember seeing a guy in NY in 2001 wearing a sandwich board that read “Will code HTML for food.”

  32. Urbane says:

    Maybe people’s diets and farming need to be reformed closer to a more natural, hunter gatherer diet, mainly getting energy from fat, so vegetables become condiments merely to add variety, with a lot more food being animal fat, meat, organ and offal meat from ruminants, and starchy vegetation regarded as only optional fat substitutes to make up for insufficient animal fat.

    Ruminant farming look far better value than most vegetable agriculture, because all they need is grass, salt, and water, to make fertiliser, diary, and dense nutrition in animal fresh. BTW: Feedlot cattle are unhealthy and poor quality food, and it is ridiculously wasteful to feed farmed, harvested and transported crops to cattle!

    Plant foods tend to be a lot more costly for nutrient use, due to containing anti-sprouting and/or anti-grazing chemicals, especially if not sprouted or fermented, whereas animal foods don’t have that problem. Any baked goods not made from sprouted grains or sour-dough are probably one of the least healthy things you can eat, as is much fruit and milk.

    • Cobalt Programmer says:

      Poultry, pork and cattle need plant product sources like grains (corn+wheat), legumes (soybeans) and land known as confined animal farming operations. Without Midwest soybean farming, there will be no meat, eggs or milk. Hunter gatherer diet is totally different from hunter gatherer lifestyle which no keto/paleo/lowcarb people wants. I might eat like a paleolithic hunter but do not want the lifestyle of my modern farming grandfather either…

      Ruminant farming? Chickens lay an egg everyday, with an average of 21 days to hatch.

      Pigs have >100 days gestation period and most of the piglets wont even survive without modern tools…

      Cattles….Forget them unless you are ready to carry a long ass gun.

  33. A says:

    A sensible thing that has been needed for some time is a change of land use policy. HOAs, lawn culture, and everything else that values pretty over productive land…that bails out giant factory farms and squashes the little guy… these things have been a drag on real food resilience for some time.

    We need active permaculture type backyards for more and more people. They can be pretty, but the primary function is growing food not lawns.

    We need Victory Gardens and Community Gardens (and fruit trees everywhere). All of these things are possible. The laws are currently not in support of them, since they’ve long favored Big Ag. It remains to be seen how stubborn townships and gov’t can be when people are truly hungry and angry.

    It’s time to pay up for farm labor. It’s hard work and currently far underpriced and workers treated abusively without adequate protections in many places. Everyone knows it. It has to change. We also need more small farms and market gardeners and backyard farmers. We need to let people keep poultry for eggs and meat in their backyard. These things are really that revolutionary; they’re old fashioned. We’re not too modern to be involved in our own food production; not everything has to be done on a giant scale.

    You can’t “modern” your way out of needing to eat. It’s time to change policies to encourage people to be more involved. Let’s do Victory Garden PSAs and educational programs, and encourage people to raise birds for eggs and meat, and plant community fruit trees. Let’s hit the low hanging fruit before things get desperate. The problems have been there; we just see them more clearly now.

    Wouldn’t it be better to start valuing resilience now instead of waiting until people are starving? Nobody will willingly starve. The value of a lawn is very little when you’re starving.

    The longer the world waits for local food resilience, the harder it is to make that change. Even a small change made soon enough can make a difference. But let’s not blame people who didn’t know better. Who were working fifty hours a week and too tired to do anything else with their lives, and believed that the grocery store would always be full and nobody would ever go hungry.

    Sure, it seemed true for a long time. But let’s not fall for that anymore. Let’s hedge our bets, and sacrifice lawn culture to practicality. Because in the end, we’d all like to eat.

    Till the govt steps up and starts encouraging better land use through practical policy, we can at least start with ourselves. Low hanging fruit so we don’t get overwhelmed. It’s hard to grow everything a person needs, but almost everyone can grow some fruit or veg or potatoes. And whether from shortages, or lack of funds, growing some of one’s own food can really help in hard times.

  34. Craig says:

    @dog. Highly unionized Germany has the highest production per capita. Total production is less since they use the surplus to work less hours.

  35. mm says:

    Any excuse and no cost spared, that is how keen government is to fly in more foreigners….
    Instead of spending the government money on subsidizing and doubling farm labor wages….

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