Study: Stronger borders might raise costs, reduce farm labor

Stricter immigration enforcement would likely reduce the demand for farm labor and increase the mechanization of California agriculture, according to a new study co-authored by a UC Davis economist.

The study, released Monday, says crackdowns on undocumented farm workers will simply raise the cost of farm labor. Growers will respond by substituting labor-saving machinery. Imports of produce from lower-cost locations may increase, too.

Written by Philip Martin of UC Davis and Linda Calvin, an economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the study examines the state's $20 billion-a-year fruit, vegetable and nut industry.

"The California produce industry depends on a constant influx of new, foreign-born labor attracted by wages above those in their countries of origin, primarily Mexico," the authors write. "Enforcement of immigration laws or immigration reform could raise labor costs."

Produce growers in California hire about 374,000 workers a year, the study says. A USDA survey conducted between 2005 and 2007 concluded that more than half of those workers were undocumented.

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