Immigration

Sorry Robots, Meatpacking Is Still A Human Job — For Now

Aug 24, 2015
Stephanie Paige Ogburn / KUNC

Slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants throughout the country employ a lot of people. About a quarter of a million workers in the U.S. stun, kill and eviscerate the animals we eat. Most of those jobs are physically demanding and require few skills.

So why haven’t we started using more robots to cut up our beef?

The answer to the lack of meat processing robots gives insight into the limits of the technology and the economics of what it takes to put meat on American tables. Because meat processing makes up a huge portion of Great Plains communities’ rural economies, what happens inside meat processing plants affects not only the companies involved, but the very culture of rural America.

Joe Mahoney / Rocky Mountain PBS I-News

From Moffat to Alamosa counties, Colorado is a big player in the nation's sheep industry.

The animals thrive in the state's high, dry mountains. Colorado ranked third in the value of sales of sheep and goats at $87 million in 2012, the latest data available, according to a 2014 USDA fact sheet.

Sheepherders – mostly immigrant guest workers from South America on H2-A visas – are responsible for the health of the flocks, day to day. The workers aren't subject to minimum wage like other farm workers. Instead their wages are set specially by the federal government at $750 a month in Colorado, a wage that has increased by only $50 in the past 20 years for most states, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Now the sheep industry is girding itself for what it sees as a storm.

Luke Runyon / KUNC and Harvest Public Media

When Jon Slutsky’s dairy farm in Wellington, Colorado. is fully staffed, it’s a moment to celebrate. A full roster of employees at Slutsky’s La Luna Dairy is rare these days.

“We’re doing really well with our employee base,” Slutsky said. “A year ago, we couldn’t say that. We were short.”

With the farm’s 1,500 cows waiting to be milked, Slutsky and his wife Susan Moore felt panicked, worried they didn’t have enough hands on deck to milk about 200 cows per hour.

Aleida Ramirez is proud of her old driver's license. It's faded and battered, held together by tape in two places, and it expired two years ago.

But Ramirez wouldn't think of throwing it out.

"Because it's my treasure," Ramirez says. "I mean, this is the only proof that I've been living in this state. This is the only proof that I have that I've been working hard, that I want to be here."

California's Humboldt County is known for its towering redwoods. But this region about 200 miles north of San Francisco has another claim to fame. Humboldt is to weed what Napa is to fine wine — it's the heart of marijuana production in the U.S.

Every fall, young people, mostly in their 20s, come from all over the world to work the marijuana harvest. They come seeking jobs as "trimmers" — workers who manicure the buds to get them ready for market. The locals have a name for these young migrant workers: "trimmigrants."

Agriculture Industry Calls For More Immigration Reform

Nov 21, 2014
Luke Runyon / KUNC and Harvest Public Media

In the debate over immigration reform, farm and ranch groups have been among those calling for change the loudest, and most frequently. But after President Obama announced changes to the immigration system, the response from the agriculture industry so far has been mixed.

White House / YouTube.com

President Obama addressed the nation from the East Room in the White House, outlining his plans for executive action to address immigration. In summary the president's announced actions are:

  • Delay the deportation of undocumented parents of children legally in the country
  • Protect children brought into the country illegally before Jan. 1, 2010
  • Direct officials to concentrate on deporting criminals and individuals who are a national security threat

White House / YouTube.com

A day before President Barack Obama announces a series of steps protecting around 5 million immigrants in the United States illegally, representatives from the Colorado Business Roundtable and The Colorado Farm Bureau urged Congress to take action and dismissed the president's plan as potentially damaging to any legislative solution.

The representatives called on Colorado's legislative delegation to pass immigration reform in Congress before the end of the current session.

Migrant Farmworkers Remain Crucial To Harvest

Nov 12, 2014
Esther Honig for Harvest Public Media

On a warm October afternoon Veronica Jaramillo walks through rows of skinny apple trees on the orchard where she works as the sun sinks behind rolling Missouri hills.

Children Of Latino Immigrants Forge Paths In Agriculture

Nov 4, 2014
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

In a dimly-lit lab on the Des Moines, Iowa, public schools’ agricultural science campus, students in aprons, safety goggles and plastic gloves poke and probe chicken wings. About 15 girls and just one boy in this vet careers class are looking for ligaments, tendons, cartilage and other features of this animal part that teenagers more often experience cooked and covered in barbecue sauce.

A 17-year old senior, with her hair pulled back in a ponytail for the dissection, high-fives her lab partner when they identify the ligament and show it to their teacher. This young woman is a chapter officer in the Des Moines FFA group and recently got elected to a district-wide leadership position. She’s already earned a full scholarship to Iowa State University and aspires to be a large animal veterinarian with her own small cattle herd.

Her name is Melissa Garcia Rodriquez. Born and raised in Iowa, Garcia comes from a Mexican family.

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