Ice cream, you scream, we'll all scream when dairy prices start skyrocketing in President Donald Trump's America.
Losing immigrant workers in the dairy industry would have a "ripple effect" that would impact the price of milk, cheese, ice cream and other dairy products, Mark Stephenson, director of Dairy Policy Analysis at University of Wisconsin, Madison, said in a phone interview. Dairy farmers depend on immigrant labor to keep farms running smoothly.
"Over the last 30 years, we've had many more immigrants filling positions on farms that had previously been filled by family members," Stephenson said, explaining that legal and illegal immigrants make up roughly half the dairy labor force.
Retail milk prices could increase by as much as 90% — National Federation of Milk Producers
In Wisconsin, 60% of dairy farm workers are undocumented, Bloomberg reported. These workers aren't taking away jobs from Americans, Gordon Speirs, a farmer from Brillion and president of the state's Dairy Business Association told Bloomberg, explaining that there's a critical need for people to work these kinds of jobs.
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"The dairy farmers are desperate for labor right now," Jerry Dryer, a dairy market analyst who's worked in the industry for more than 45 years, said in a phone interview. "They can't find enough people to work right now, let alone have current employees deported."
The consequences of a labor force without immigrants
Retail milk prices could increase by as much as 90% if the U.S. had no immigrant labor, a 2015 study commissioned by the National Federation of Milk Producers (NFMP) noted. If that did happen, here's how much some of Americans' most favorite dairy products would cost.
These numbers are, of course, just an estimate. Stephenson said that a 90% price increase sounds high. "Even if labor prices had to double, I can't image that it would double the cost of milk," he said.
Dyer disagreed. "You would certainly see a doubling [in milk prices]," he said, explaining that there would even be empty milk shelves if there were total loss of immigrant labor and milk production shrunk by a quarter, as noted in the National Milk Producers Federation study.
Just how much does labor factor into the cost of producing milk?
According to data provided by over 400 dairy farms to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, labor costs are roughly 10% of total costs, Stephenson noted.
"It would certainly be a disruption for quite a period of time," Stephenson said when asked what the dairy industry would be like with no immigrants. "Either we have to entice people out of other workforces," or farmers must invest in expensive automatic milking machines, he noted.
But rising milk prices aren't the only thing putting cheese and ice cream prices at risk. "All these trade deals are in jeopardy ... sugar, vanilla, chocolate, anything we import, those prices could go through the ceiling if we interrupt international trade," Dyer said.
Plus, other policies proposed by Trump could spell disaster for the dairy industry. Mexico, which is responsible for importing 3.2% of the U.S. milk supply, could potentially cease importing American dairy "as retaliation for our shenanigans at the border," Dyer noted. Doesn't seem like a lot? In 12 months, Mexico imported 648 million pounds of milk, 199 million pounds of cheese, 22 million pounds of butter, 19 million pounds of whey products from Americans, Dyer noted. Mexico has already stated it will boycott and retaliate against Trump's proposals, Mic previously reported.
A domino effect of jobs lost
Dyer expects that if dairy prices do increase or dairy production falls, there will be a domino effect that decreases jobs in multiple sectors. "Its not just the immigrant who loses his job, it's the guy who hauls his milk to the factory, the cheesemaker, the retail clerk who sells the cheese," he said.
Even though Trump's trying to put "America First," his anti-immigrant agenda could dry up dairy jobs in a big way — and by the time his policies are enacted, almost everyone will be crying over spilled milk.