The Times article is called "The Labor of Raising Fresh Produce". It's an interview with the chief executive of Del Monte Produce (thought of as a classic American brand). His name is
Q. In parts of the country in the latest harvest, crops went to waste because of a labor shortage. Do you struggle with finding enough workers?
A. This is a challenge, something that we have to work on. We have a big operation in Arizona, where we produce melons in the spring and fall. And we use a lot of labor in the fields for picking and packing. This, of course, is a situation where we have to live with the new wages that have just been passed on by Congress. And also the issue of having access to labor from Mexico. This is an issue that the whole industry is dealing with. Our prices to the consumer haven’t been raised to handle this increase in labor costs. The additional costs will have to be passed on to the consumer. We won’t be able to absorb the costs for a very long time.
Q. When you recently reported your fourth-quarter and full-year earnings, you said that 2006 was your most challenging year. Why?
A. Higher costs from energy. That affected packing and plastics and logistics in every way. Prices for everything went up, and all of a sudden. At the end of 2005, when we projected for 2006, we never expected energy and fuel prices to shoot up by 50, 60, 70 percent. Also, the dollar has weakened over the past year. And the currencies in our producing nations have shot up.
Q. How will you turn things around in 2007?
A. We closed operations that were not so profitable, like some potato operations and onion operations in North America, and sold some others. We also closed some pineapple operations in Hawaii, where costs were extremely high. We will see benefits from these actions. We are also working on some pricing, like with bananas, in North America.
Q. Where do you see the most opportunity for growth this year?
A. We are focusing on our new markets, Middle East and Africa. Countries like the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, where we have a successful poultry operation.
In Africa, we are focusing on North Africa; Algeria is a strong market in particular. We have just opened a state-of-the-art plant for processed meats in Jordan, and we will market the products throughout the whole region.
We are also now entering into ice creams in Europe. We are experiencing high growth rates in volumes, and we are intending to expand that into new markets as well.
And this from me, Sal.
In the U.S., the average life expectancy of a migrant farm worker has been consistently placed to be under 50 years old for many years now, from sources like the Center for Disease Control.
And this, from http://www.pbs.org/now/politics/migrants.html NOW, Bill Moyers and PBS.
Children who work on farms are governed by different rules than those in any other occupation. They can start work at age 12 if accompanied by a parent. Child farm laborers can also work longer hours.
According to the General Accounting office more than 100,000 children and teens are injured on farms each year.
The Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs has found that half the youth who regularly perform farm work never graduate from high school.
Back to Sal.
Some will view this post as "liberal" in nature and just more rhetoric. Others may see it as cynical or even as a clue to what makes a country trustworthy of financial investment and forgo the humanity angle.
Economies are driven by "foreign" investments and cash flow especially at times of war when cash is critical. The trade offs for cash flow are often surprising to the non-initiated.
To understand the geo/economic/business decisions that are made and to connect the dots between the NY Times article and what people in the produce workplace really experience requires a deeper discussion than the nonsense we are fed everyday.
We are all powerfully involved as owners, managers, consumers and laborers of the food work place.
I am exhausted from the useless family type arguments about politics while this work place embodies the very survival instincts of everyone in a world where distribution is so blatantly unfair.
And, it's become just too easy to accept the conversation of the food industry. Starvation in our cities and country sides around the world is commonplace at the same time we think about what's for dinner as some political agenda is radiated through an infotainment format.
What formats do you believe affect our perception of these kinds of issues? Radio? Television? Print? Internet? Conversation? Social Networking?