Target: Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture
Goal: Invest funds for agricultural mechanization into higher wages for farm workers
In California’s Salinas Valley, known as America’s Salad Bowl, prototype machines called Lettuce Bots are being tested on fields of lettuce, doing the same work it takes 20 farm laborers to complete by hand. While this may seem like another triumph of technological innovation, it is also yet another hard hit to the working labor force. The federal government, along with venture capitalists and commodity boards, contribute funding for this kind of research, money that could be better spent on making wages more attractive to workers. Please call on the U.S. Department of Agriculture for funding that benefits workers, not robots.
Ron Yokota, a farming operations manager, says “There aren’t enough workers to take the available jobs, so the robots can come and alleviate some of that problem.” But perhaps the real problem does not lie in the lack of an available workforce, but the lack of competitive wages that are being offered to people to perform such hard work. California’s unemployment rate has been at 9 percent since April 2013, which is one and a half percent higher than the national rate. So the potential labor force is there. It is the farms that should raise their wage rate to attract people, which is very possible since the United States Department of Agriculture forecasts 2013’s net farm income at $128.2 billion, the highest since 1973.
The “efficiency” of automation in farm fields ultimately comes at the cost of losing jobs. Erik Nicholson, national vice president of the United Farm Workers of America, says, “The fundamental question for consumers is who and, now, what do you want picking your food; a machine or a human, who with the proper training and support, can”… harvest safer and higher quality fruits and vegetables. Please urge Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack to urge the farming industry to invest in better wages for farm workers, and not technology that would render human labor obsolete.
Dear United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack,
While agricultural technological advances, like the Blue River Technology’s Lettuce Bot that can thin a field of lettuce in the same amount of time it takes 20 people to do so, are remarkably innovative, they are likely to lead to even more job losses in an already unstable job market. Please provide farms an incentive to hire workers at a fair wage, instead of awarding grants to research that gets rid of human labor altogether.
Though farms and technology firms justify the spending on robots because of a severe labor shortage, what does not make sense is that if there is such a shortage then shouldn’t farms increase wages enough to attract people from other types of jobs? The agricultural industry is more than capable of affording such a wage raise since 2013’s projected net income from farms is the highest it’s been since 1973.
In an already highly automated industry, workers will only get left further behind as they get replaced by machinery like the Lettuce Bots. I urge the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create incentives for farmers to hire workers at more attractive wages, instead of mechanizing the industry completely.
[Your Name Here]
Photo Credit: Sven Kleinewoerdemann via Wikimedia Commons