remarkable is that this ever smaller number of farms and farmers has increased production, keeping up with the food and fiber demands of a growing population and producing a sizable excess for export. This dramatic change is attributable to three factors: (1) mechanization—the replacement of human and animal labor with capital investments; (2) specialization—the move from varied products of smaller farms to monoculture, or the output of only one product (such as strawberries, wheat, apples) on much larger farms; and (3) technological advances, including herbicides that replace hand weeding, fertilizers that permit growing the same crop on the same land year after year, and genetic manipulations that produce blemish-free fruit or slow-ripening tomatoes so that they can be transported long distances, and animal husbandry that uses artificial insemination to produce animals with desirable traits.

The growth of large-scale, intensive, often irrigation-based agriculture is matched by the decline of the small-or medium-size farms. The survival of smaller farms often depends on farmers or their family members taking an off-farm job in order to ensure the economic survival of the farm. Farmers with smaller farms also seek specialty niches, such as special fruits and vegetables, aimed at urban markets. These products are more labor intensive and are not as prone to mechanization.

While the number of farm workers has declined, including both hired and family workers, there has been a steady increase in immigrant labor pools employed in agriculture. Fitchen (1995:252) comments:

... contrary to earlier forecasts, growers have not moved toward mechanization, but toward "Mexicanization" [a term coined by Palerm, 1991] ... in such crops as strawberries, apples, pears, broccoli and asparagus, and specialty nursery plants.

Especially in California and other Western states, thousands of Mexican Americans and Mexican nationals are filling the seasonal labor needs of intensive hand labor needed during the planting, weeding, and harvesting, especially in fruit and vegetable monocropping. Florida and the Eastern seaboard states also attract immigrant workers, many of whom are from Haiti and other West Indian nations, as well as from Mexico and other Central American countries.

What do these changes imply for the numbers of children working in agriculture in the future? The answer is mixed: With the

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement