Key to Flipping SD Pres Vote Dem: Big Ag’s Demand for Immigrant Labor

So I get to wondering: Who’s going to milk all those cows on G. Mark Mickelson’s deregulated CAFO dairies? Who’s going to slaughter the cows trucked to Northern Beef Packers/New Angus/DemKota Ranch Beef? Who’s going to harvest our grain and fruits and vegetables?

Immigrants, of course.

And then I get to wondering if immigration might quietly bring Big Ag around to abandon the Republican Party—maybe just on the Presidential ticket, but maybe more broadly, to send a message—and turn South Dakota against Donald Trump in this election.

Consider that Donald Trump would build a wall between us and Mexicans and Muslims, who provide much of the labor force for agriculture and food processing in South Dakota and nationwide. Big Ag’s support for Republicans has borne the fruit of Trumpism, which threatens their industry’s ability to sustain a domestic workforce:

An immigration policy focused on closing the border would shift up to 61 percent of U.S. fruit production to other countries due to domestic labor shortages, sending jobs to Mexico and other nearby competitors, according to a 2014 study commissioned by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the largest U.S. farmer group.

Reforms that would include a guest-worker program and legal status for current migrants would keep those losses in revenue at 2 percent to 3 percent. That’s made the farm lobby a reliable ally in efforts to open immigration.

The agriculture industry is the 10th-biggest donor to political campaigns, ahead of the transportation and defense industries and just behind organized labor, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington. Agribusiness gives three-quarters of its donations to Republicans, according to the group [Alan Bjerga, “Crops Rot While Trump-Led Immigration Backlash Idles Farm Lobby,” Bloomberg, 2016.06.07].

Bernie Sanders supported the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill that would have helped farms hire more legal immigrants instead of leaving them trapped in the work visa backlog that Big Ag says threatens this year’s harvest. Hillary Clinton says immigration reform is part of her plan to help agriculture.

So farmers, ranchers, eaters, think about it: you have one party offering a President who will shut down immigration and half or more of the American harvest. You have another party offering a President who will back the reforms necessary to keep making beef and bread and blueberries (oh! wait! machines muscle out migrants and alliteration!) in America.

South Dakota’s Big Ag Republicans may not like it, but if we’re just talking business, their best choice for President is the Democrat.


44 Responses to Key to Flipping SD Pres Vote Dem: Big Ag’s Demand for Immigrant Labor

  1. Is the technology in dairy leading to a place where large labor forces will be unnecessary? I don’t know, but it seems it might be.

  2. Roger Cornelius

    It would be great if it all worked as you laid out Cory, but how many times have we seen South Dakota republicans vote against their own best interest.

  3. Good Sense

    We also vote FOR our best interests. Like when we voted Daschle out.

  4. bearcreekbat

    Good Sense, you say voting Daschle out was voting “FOR our best interests.” Do you mean South Dakotan’s best interests?

    How have circumstances improved for South Dakota since we elected Thune?

    What problems did Daschle cause South Dakotans that Thune has fixed?

  5. Roger Cornelius

    Thanks for proving my point to nonsense.

  6. Douglas Wiken

    It won’t be family farms hurt by closing the border to illegal aliens. If what you want is more stinking dairy barns with hundreds or thousands of cows, then illegal aliens might be your cup of milk. If you don’t want schools and courts filled with people who can’t and don’t want to speak English, then push for illegal aliens. If you want a lot of earnings shipped back to Mexico or Central American support illegal aliens. Ross Perot talked about a great sucking sound with NAFTA. There is a great whoosh sound as money earned in US flies to Mexico.

  7. Roger Cornelius

    How very Trump of you!

  8. bearcreekbat

    Douglas, sorry but I don’t believe in “illegal” people. Immigrants are people, just like you and I. They have husbands, wives, children, parents, cousins, uncles, aunts, and even grandpas and grandmas. Each one deserves the respect of every one us and deserves an opportunity to work to support their loved ones where ever they live, even in Mexico, and an opportunity to better their lives.

    The Spanish language is a beautiful and instructive language. Living with people whose first language is Spanish provides a terrific benefit to our children and community. While they are learning English from us we can be learning Spanish from them.

    We are really lucky to live on a continent where we are not at war with the countries at both of our borders. It seems a better lesson to our own children to have them see adults treat our visiting neighbors with respect, compassion, empathy and humility, rather than treat them as our enemy.

  9. Lanny V Stricherz

    bcb, you missed a very salient point. They have a physical work ethic unmatched in modern day USA.

    This is one of the reasons that I had to go back to being an independent from being registered Republican, (which I did when I moved back to SD because there are seldom primary elections among Dems, so I wanted the most voice that I could get).

    The past election, we had a former governor running for the US Senate and a current governor running for reelection. They had solicited immigration by green card through the EB-5 program as part of what they saw as economic development. They also knew that UNDOCUMENTED WORKERS, not illegal aliens would be needed to kill and dress the turkeys, milk the cows and clean up the cow manure, as well as all the related dirty jobs. They also knew that the new and assorted hotels along Interstate 90 going to west of the River would need folks to clean the rooms and toilets. What better place to have these undocumented workers.

    But both of them as well as their attorneys general, looked the other way at what their party at the national level determines as illegal activity, because here it is part of “economic development.” They also look the other way at the illegal sex trafficking that goes on in relation to the Sturgis rally and the opening of the pheasant hunting season.

    I have written all three of our representatives in DC three times asking them to do something to start working toward a path to citizenship for, as bcb pointed out so eloquently, these are human beings as are the Middle Eastern refugees upon whom we have turned our backs.

    We have a serious problem in this country when a guy like Trump can holler his ethnic slurs and there is not immediate outrage amongst the entire citizenry. But he is not alone, as long as the majority of Congress closes their eyes to these two huge human crises. I remind everyone that under Reagan’s amnesty more than 150,000 Irish were included, but of course they were “white” so the looked like us and no one got upset.

  10. Trump is likely losing to Hillary and dems will pickup the senate too.

  11. True, Roger (what’s wrong with Kansas). But this time, we’re not talking about the general electorate: we’re talking about one of the big industries that gives the candidates money. Trump’s greater threat to their business interests could provoke a different campaign… or at least a retraction of material support, not just votes, for the GOP.

  12. Bob, if machines can pick blueberries, maybe they can tend thousands of cows.

    However, SDSU dairy expert Dr. Alvaro Garcia says our big dairies need one employee per 80 cows. Compare that to robot reach and costs:

    With this labor situation it would be tempting to think about milking robots as an alternative. If the 60-cow robots in the market today were to be used, a 1000-cow dairy would need 17 robots which, at $210,000 each makes for a $3.6 million dollars investment. Investing that kind of money into a new milking system seems akin to what happened in the past when dairy farmers invested in a new “state of the art” milking parlor difficult to pay for with production. With the extreme input-output variability that the dairy industry has been facing since the 1980’s incorporating nowadays any kind of expensive equipment is a high-risk endeavor. Any expansion effort should first target maximizing production with the current herd size and facilities. The expansion thought process needs to follow a sequence of events with economic logic that can be summarized in one statement “getting better before getting larger” [Dr. Alvaro Garcia, Dairy Expansion in South Dakota,” Ag Web, 2015.09.15]

    Garcia seems to believe robots are not a cost-effective first choice for dairy expansion. I invite readers to math out how long it would take robots to pay for themselves by displacing human labor at $14-$20/hour.

    But note that human labor used to be more cost-effective for walking beans, too.

  13. Darin Larson

    Cory, I have been told that there is a “sweet spot” in terms of size of dairy that works well using robots. I’m not sure I remember what the range was for the sweet spot, but it was something like 120-500 cows.

  14. Darin Larson

    I have been told that certain big-ag straight-ticket Republican types are going to vote for Clinton because Trump would essentially be bad for business and a total destructive wildcard. Clinton is viewed as imperfect, but stable and a known quantity. These folks have probably never voted for a Democrat.

  15. Lanny V Stricherz

    Makes no difference Darin Larson, either one of them is going to be bad for labor and middle class folks and the poor. Looks like the Dems still have their work cut out for them. Even with a not contested up ticket primary, The Repubs garnered nearly 67,00 votes while the Dems could only garner 52,000 Dems and Indys with a somewhat contested primary.

  16. Darin Larson

    Lanny, there was a suppressed Democratic vote, remember? ;)
    In all seriousness, some Clinton supporters were not fired up to vote when the outcome of the nomination was not in doubt and some Sanders supporters may have said what is the point and stayed home.

    Trump will drive voter turnout in the fall–more so against him than for him. #nevertrump

  17. I woke this morning to a smile. Bernie had won all of West River South Dakota! I was amazed at that and feel that there is hope of change in at least half of the state, to the rest, happy CAFO to you! Sure does stink over there in East River driving down the Interstate, how do you stand it?

    80% of elected Democrats endorsed Clinton, but those numbers do not reflect their choice in what we see as the outcome. Roger says that all of the tribal chairmen endorsed Clinton, but the regular on the reservations voters put that horse out to pasture. West River is range with hardened good folk that cling tenaciously onto vast lands full of hopes and dreams. There is still hope for the future if some Democrat were to to start pointing out the flaws we have seen with our current regimes and get people interested in what and how a liberal can make the positive change for them. Flipping big ag will never happen as they have the means to traffic their workforce from all over the world and are not squeamish about putting money into politicos pockets to look the other way. Meanwhile, Bernie stays in the race at this point for the good of all.

  18. Harvest industry depends on foreign labor, there would be NO combining if foreign help wasn’t coming in on H2 visas. It is getting more and more difficult to do the paper work. Every year we advertise locally, no one responds, it’s the long hours and the heat. The pay is more than what you can make all year at a desk job… So foreign help is essential to get the crops in.

  19. barry freed

    If either Party honestly wanted to end illegal immigration, all they would have to do is arrest those who hire illegals, corporation CEO’s and home owners hiring at Home Depot alike. Without demand (and rumors of wages better than reality) the illegals wouldn’t waste their time.

    It would appear that Mexicans make as much or more in Mexico, so why are they coming here?

  20. Darin Larson

    “Bernie stays in the race at this point for the good of [Bernie].” Fixed it for ya, jerry!

    Clinton takes California 57-43 and you want to talk about West River? Clinton takes California, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Dakota. Bernie takes North Dakota and Montana.

    jerry, if you are thinking that West River is going to turn liberal any time soon, you need to lay off the hard stuff! It is a little early to be drinking isn’t it?

  21. I see Non Sense is trolling again. Unfortunately when we lost Tom Daschle, we also lost all of our clout. Since that point we have seen nothing of substance from his replacement and in fact Thune has failed to protect our farmers and ranchers but allowing country of original labeling to be repealed.

    Aside form appearing in some photo-ops and endorsing a racist for President… what exactly has John Thune done for us?

  22. mike from iowa

    Mexicans come to America for the freedumb. Here they are free to have people dump their hatred and racism on them-they can’t get that back in old Mexico.

  23. I realize this isn’t the right spot for this comment, but I haven’t seen a story about it yet. I just saw a study that lists SD as the 2nd best state in the nation for millennials. What??? The bastion of GOP racism, never caring about the environment and disregard for the middle and lower class is actually a great place for millenials to live??? Say it isn’t so!!! I am guessing caheidelberger is going to get to it soon.

  24. Family farms are beginning to rely on undocumented immigration heavily to meet their workforce needs. As children are not following in their parent’s footsteps and finding reliable, documented, hired labor is getting harder to find, our undocumented friends are filling in the vacuum.
    I was speaking with a small scale dairy owner that has resorted to this tactic after multiple attempts to find help. When he hires someone, he asks for a SSN (oftentimes an incorrect one is given) and fills out the requisite W-4. He then does the requisite accounting and withholds and submits the proper amount of taxes, he provides housing and most of his labor lives a pretty humble, under the radar life.
    While the undocumented nature is less than desired, he hires hard working, humble taxpayers that want to find a better life in the least obstructive way possible. Is that all bad?

  25. mike from iowa

    Barry-FWIW-your link’s minimum wage for all those countries(including Mexico) are figured in Euros which equals 1.1 US dollars. I don’t think Mexicans get paid in either Euros or USD. Irf they did,the listed minimum wage wouldn’t be terribly bad.

  26. Lanny V Stricherz

    MD, you hit on a big part of hiring these undocumented workers and the reason to give them a path to citizenship. That is taxes, income tax, sales tax as well as the other taxes that we pay. Think of the amount of sales tax that folks who would be working the 3000 jobs that are unfilled in just Sioux Falls, would be paying. Talk about economic development.

    There is an immigrant from Cuba who is running a seat shop here in Sioux Falls. She hires undocumented workers and then when she shorts them on their pay or doesn’t pay them at all, she simply says “who are you going to tell?” And of course there is no one that they can tell because those who have tried to help them, have been told by ICE that they will need the persons’ names and then of course they will be either jailed or deported.

    We need to have our representatives in Congress do something to correct this deplorable situation. Amnesty with a path to citizenship just like when Reagan was President and then fix our immigration system.

  27. Douglas Wiken

    Those taxes come from the employers. Same taxes or more if they only hired citizens. The tax paid humbug is total crap.

  28. Clinton is still statistically tied with Trump. She got the dead cat bounce on her win in South Dakota and California.

  29. Roger Cornelius

    And Jerry continues his campaign for Trump.

    Bernie is just a bitter old man at this point.

  30. Wow, right wing republican Ohio governor legalizes medical marijuana.

    If Democrats were serious about doing any flipping in big ag, they would be proposing social issues like medical marijuana and Medicaid Expansion every day, day in and day out. Pressers, letters to the editors, the whole bandwagon. That is how the game is played. Take a look at how the Payday loan business was handled, a joint effort that goes on the ballot for the people’s voice.

  31. Just pointing out the facts Roger. Dispute them all you want as you read the results of the polling.

  32. Darin Larson

    jerry, if you would read your own linked articles, you would see that the latest poll cited there has Clinton up by 5 points over Trump and none of these polls were done after Clinton’s victories yesterday. But don’t let facts get in the way of your good story.

  33. Darrin, there is a margin of error in all polls. Just keep whistling past the grave yard and saying 5 points, it ain’t no big thing. Your thinking like Gore and Dukakis

  34. Roger Cornelius

    This may seem a little far left field, but like any election anything is possible.
    There seems to be a concerted effort by the establishment GOP to knock Trump off the ticket and replace him with someone more tolerable, Scott Walker was brought up.
    Like any party convention, the rules can be changed thus freeing bound Trump delegates to vote for someone else.
    Regardless of any polling at this point, Trump is in a lot of trouble with his own party. Trump has about 3 weeks to clean up his campaign or face the wrath of the GOP establishment.

  35. Lanny greast point you are a true commander.

  36. Darin Larson

    Roger, in a moment of boredom and curiosity as I sprayed weeds the other day, I listened to Hannity. He is selling the story that the establishment GOP wants Trump to lose in the general election so they can say “I told you so” to the Republican primary voters and shut down the anti-establishment movement. I would not rule out your scenario of changing the rules and getting another candidate in there, but I think Trump would almost have to shoot somebody at this point. Maybe, threatening a federal judge in his fraud case would suffice?

    The thing is if they take the nomination away from Trump, they know he will run third party and it guarantees Clinton’s election In that event, the GOP doesn’t get to chastise the anti-establishment movement. If they don’t take the nomination away from him, there is a small chance that Trump beats Clinton. And if the likely happens that Clinton is elected, the GOP establishment gets to say I told you so, you dumb voters should have gone with one of the establishment candidates.

    I don’t know if most of the GOP is ready to throw the election yet to get rid of Trump and the anti-establishment movement. I do think some will only go through the motions of supporting Trump. Basically, they won’t campaign against him.

    I hate to go down this road for fear of jinxing things since it so early, but Trump could really hurt the GOP for years and years to come. He is hardening and solidifying the Democrats’ advantages with minority voting blocks, women and younger voters.

  37. **Newsflash**

    In a rare triumph for social and environmental justice in South Dakota, a prescient majority of Grant County voters on Tuesday rejected a challenge by corporate-backed interests to nullify a recently-approved progressive CAFO ordinance. Not even a conspicuous visit by South Dakota’s newly-anointed “Magnate of Manure”, Mark Mickelson, could rescue the ill-conceived resistance movement. The amended ordinance, which is based on graduated setbacks relative to the size of the operation (in Animal Units) and was originally passed on a 5-0 vote by the county commissioners, will take the place of an antiquated version from the 1990s that was unequipped to address impacts posed by modern mega-CAFOs.

    A group unsatisfied and threatened by equitable, common sense changes to status quo—Citizens for a Progressive Grant County—led the effort to refer the amended ordinance to a public vote. Interestingly, and perhaps unknown to county residents, that group was incorporated as a domestic non-profit by the South Dakota Secretary of State on October 1, 2015 and is led by the CEO and CFO of Valley Queen Cheese Factory, Mark Leddy and Brian Sandvig, respectively (

    During the month preceding voting day, the partisan group consistently touted the ability of mega-CAFOs, especially dairies, to increase local economic activity, increase the value of private property in the vicinity of new operations, and benefit the environment, despite the fact they never provided one shred of documentation to support their claims and the peer-reviewed scientific literature is replete with evidence to the contrary. In a further gesture aimed at undermining the will of the majority of voters in Grant County, Mark Leddy stated—before the election, mind you—that the progressive ordinance was a taking of property rights and would likely be challenged in court should the referendum fail (

  38. Grant County! Well done! Subtract five points from Mickelson’s odds of winning the GOP primary and the Governor’s seat in 2018!

  39. (Stu, you’re right: this is not the right place for that comment. Trying to hijack a comment section to talk about a completely different topic is rude. You want a story covered? Send me the link via my contact form, and I’ll see if I find it blogworthy:

  40. barry freed

    Maybe you should recognize hijackings for what they are… a failure on your part.

    In the restaurant trade, they say you can count on 9 unvoiced negative critiques for every one who comments.

  41. (Barry, I disagree. If I make a statement, and if someone else barges in and makes a completely unrelated statement, the failure lies with that person. Or do you also contend that airplane hijackings are the fault of pilots and passengers?)

  42. barry freed

    If the passengers are self-serving political hacks who stifle the dissemination of information by ignoring important events and smothering them with sex and petty politics at the behest of the pilots who are in reality, steering the conversations; then yes, hijacking is going to happen because of those passengers and pilots.

  43. (Nonsense. I made a clear statement about the political implications of immigration reform. I don’t see how that invites or excuses a commenter trying to turn the conversation to an entirely different, unrelated article. You’re airing a different grievance, Barry, which has nothing to do with the content of the original post… and I’m indulging you.)