While mass deportation of illegal immigrants would profoundly impact a number of industries, perhaps none would be hit as hard as agriculture. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s report on Immigration and the Rural Workforce, undocumented workers make up 67 percent of fruit harvesters and 61 percent of vegetable farm employees. It is also estimated that up to 50 percent of all workers picking crops are undocumented.
Due to these overwhelming numbers, many agricultural economists have noted that a rapid decrease in the immigrant workforce would inevitably send shock waves through the entire food system, The Washington Post reports.
A large-scale loss of labor would result in three possible scenarios, all of which are guaranteed to raise food prices while lowering the quality and quantity of food being made available. Farmers will either have to hire significantly more expensive legally authorized workers; cut production, resulting in unharvested, and ultimately, wasted crops; or turn to crops that require less or no human labor to be harvested.
“There are some fruits and vegetables we just might not be able to produce in the U.S. anymore,” says Luis Ribera, an agricultural economist at Texas A&M. Some of these labor intensive crops include asparagus, wine grapes, oranges, sweet cherries, and fruits and vegetables in general—all of which will be at risk when it comes to crop selectivity. “We had a labor shortage even without Trump,” Ribera notes. “Whatever he does will just compound the problem.”
The prospect of farmers paying more to produce less could not only result in a variety of industry woes—from labor shortages to farm bankruptcies—but will also impact the average grocery bill. While agricultural labor costs only account for about 1.6 cents of every dollar spent on food, market intelligence firm World Agricultural Economic and Environmental Services estimates that stricter immigration policies could result in a five to six percent increase in grocery costs. However, some experts, including Michael Roberts, an agricultural economist at the University of Hawaii, suggest this estimate is far too low.
According to a 2015 study conducted by economists at Texas A&M University and commissioned by the National Milk Producers Federation, milk prices would increase by 42.5 percent as a result of a 50 percent decrease in the milk industry’s 80,000 immigrant workforce. That would drive the average American milk cost to $3.90 per gallon, up from $2.72.
Should wide-spread deportation of laborers occur, these steep price increases could drastically shift the way Americans purchase food, potentially driving customers away from healthier, farm produced ingredients. In the meantime, it couldn’t hurt to stock up on frozen fruits and vegetables before January 20—and maybe some post-apocalyptic “survival food” while you’re at it.