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January 2019, Volume 25, Number 1

Florida, Southeast

DOL announced in December 2018 that SOL Harvesting paid $53,428 in back wages to its H-2A visa workers and a civil fine of $2,368 for failing to reimburse the employees for their visa and border fees within their first week of US work.

Florida's southwest had its worst stone crab season in decades because of the toxic algae bloom known as red tide. In response, Joe's Stone Crab in South Beach raised prices to $30 to $40 a pound, depending on size, and began to promote Alaskan king crab legs and claws. Crab fishers pointed to pollutants from agriculture as responsible for the red tide, citing sugarcane and vegetable farms in the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee, which had its own toxic freshwater blue-green algae bloom due to agricultural activities.

Harvesting the claws means removing them and returning the crab to the water to regenerate another claw. Florida typically harvests almost three million pounds a year.

South Carolina. South Carolina had over 5,000 H-2A workers in 2018; many were housed in some of the 160 farm labor camps scattered across the state. Migrant advocates say that only 14 DOL investigators are assigned to the southeastern states, too few to monitor the regions farm employers and protect farm workers.

Some growers have invested in H-2A worker housing. Titan Farms of Ridge Spring spent $350,000 to air condition its H-2A housing. Owner Chalmers Carr says that the cost of getting Titan's 850 H-2A workers to the farm is $750 each.

Logging. The southeastern and Pacific northwestern states have most US timber that is logged for housing. Southern pine was planted when the 1985 Farm Bill's Conservation Reserve Program provided incentives to convert crop land to pasture and trees.

Over 2.2 million acres of pine trees were planted in southeastern states, with owners receiving annual payments of $30 to $50 an acre for agreeing to not plant crops for 15 years; another 2.5 million acres planted in response to other incentives. Almost 23 million acres are currently enrolled in the CRP, and landowners receive an average $82 an acre. CRP payments of $50 billion have been made since 1986.

As the trees were cut, lumber prices dropped to less than $25 a ton in 2028, fueled in part by the slow recovery from the 2008-09 financial crisis that reduced homebuilding. Most modern mills are on the water, forcing owners of inland forests to accept what local mills will pay for logs, since it is not economical to haul logs long distances. Local mills make money because it is cheaper to haul finish lumber than logs; some 80,000 pound loads of logs are worth less than $100.