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The GR Press and migrant labor issues as told by the Agribusiness Lobby

March 28, 2017

Last Tuesday, the Grand Rapids Press ran a front page news story entitled, Picking Employees: Farmers must make labor decisions now, but future is uncertain. The MLive story has a different headline, but the content of the article is the same.

The article, which is almost an entire page in the print form raises some questions about possible migrant farm labor shortages due to the Trump administration policies that would crack down on undocumented immigrants.

The fact is that even those with documentation are fearful of dealing with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, considering that the new executive orders has people in the immigrant community living in fear for family members.

However, the bulk of the article focuses on the potential shortage of migrant workers, which is a major issues, especially in West Michigan, where migrant labor is an essential part of the agribusiness model.

What is both alarming and disturbing about the article is that there is only one source cited. The single source used for the article on migrant labor is Bob Boehm, who is a representative of the Michigan Farm Bureau. 

The Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) is the most powerful agricultural lobby group in the state of Michigan, representing the agribusiness sector. The MFB relies on massive agricultural subsidies that are determined at the federal level through the Farm Bill. You can track by county or by individual farmer, how much money is received.  A total of $5.3 billion dollars of taxpayer money has come to Michigan between 1994 – 2014, money that subsidizes the agribusiness sector, which are farms of a certain size, often growing commodity crops.

The Michigan Farm Bureau also lobbies the state around issues related to migrant labor and wants to keep wages for this sector low, which is why they rely on a cheap labor force that is constantly being threatened by immigration policy. A recent opinion piece written for the Michigan Farm Bureau comes from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy,  a think tank that defends the interests of the capitalist class. 

The fact that the Grand Rapids Press only included the perspective on migrant labor issues from the Michigan Farm Bureau is unacceptable. At a minimum there should have been sources used from the migrant worker community, organization that provide legal defense for migrant workers and immigration lawyers who could help shed light on the topic beyond what the Michigan Farm Bureau representative provided.

The fact that this was a front page story on March 21 indicates that the editors of the Press considered this story to be a priority. However, the question about for whom it is a priority, is another matter. The Grand Rapids Press, once again miserably fails the public by not providing other perspectives on this critical issue, let alone an analysis or at least some context of who the Michigan Farm Bureau is and who they really represent.

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