Thursday, September 07, 2006

All posts were moved (11/2006) to

Fresh vegetables... pick your own...

Why immigrants come to the United States and work crappy jobs is no secret. Carolyn Lochhead, of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote an excellent article on this back in May. People go where they're paid a decent wage. But what about the crap jobs that can't pay very well. You listen to the blowhards at CNN or Fox, and they'll tell you that of course there are American workers to do these jobs. Calling Lou Dobbs, paging Ann Coulter -- you're needed right now out in the California farm fields.

Labor shortage worsens as peak harvest nears By Kate Campbell, Assistant Editor California Farm Bureau Federation Ag Alert Against a backdrop of Congressional inaction, California farmers wait for comprehensive immigration reform and prepare for harvest. ... right now growers say labor uncertainties are their biggest worry. Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, meanwhile, are holding a series of public hearings across the nation that largely exclude agriculture. "Right now we're heading into peak harvest season in California when there's the greatest demand for farmworkers," said California Farm Bureau President Doug Mosebar. "Because we know there already are critical shortages, we are joining other agricultural groups to better track the labor supply situation. We'll be surveying our members in coming days to get the best and most up-to-date information on labor shortages as possible." ... Already some fields in the Pajaro Valley in Santa Cruz County are being abandoned because farmers can't find enough workers. Farmers in that area say there are 10 percent to 20 percent fewer workers available to harvest strawberry, raspberry and vegetable crops. Carolyn O'Donnell of the California Strawberry Commission says her organization is hearing that labor is very tight. In the Watsonville area some farms have enough and some don't. Others blame a broken H2A temporary worker program for the shortage. Many point to tightened border security and competition from other business sectors for entry-level workers. ... "Due to shortages, guys go where they get paid the most so they keep moving. Labor contractors are short of people. Harvest scares me to death," the grower said. In Santa Clara County, a field crop farmer said, "Because of the lack of help, we cannot get our crops irrigated in a timely manner. We will lose about 30 percent of our alfalfa this year." A tree fruit farmer in the Fresno area said because of lighter than usual crops, he thinks his operation will get by with 10 percent fewer workers this season. But he expects that when the grape harvest gets going in late August, the labor shortage will become extreme. "If we have a normal crop next year, we could experience even more crop losses because of a big shortage of labor," he said. Information released by the Agriculture Department's National Agricultural Statistics Service for the first quarter of 2006 pegs the number of hired workers on U.S. farms at 718,000, down nearly 4 percent from the previous year. As the crop year progresses, these statistics from USDA suggest the labor squeeze will be greatly magnified not only in the United States, but in California, the nation's No. 1 farm state. The government report, which offers the most current statistical look at the national farm labor situation, shows that wages increased sharply during the same period, while the number of workers dropped. The national average wage paid to farmworkers is up nearly 5 percent from one year ago and up 18 percent from 2001. Wage increases for hired farmworkers were reported in every region of the country where government data is collected. Earl Hall, owner of Hall Management Corp. in Kerman, said, "Everyone is struggling for workers. It has been a struggle even for us--we're looking for machine operators, tractor drivers and sorters. I personally got three different calls last week from people I'm not supplying farm labor to that want help because they cannot find enough workers. "These are big companies that normally use only in-house workers and don't use farm labor contractors," Hall said. "They can't find enough people for picking tree fruit, working in canneries--they're short everyone. And for the first time I'm getting calls from growers of green and fresh market tomatoes that are short workers. Irrigators are really in short supply. "On the Central Coast, they're struggling to find people to harvest strawberries," said Hall, who operates in 26 California counties and employs between 1,500 and 2,500 agricultural workers a day, depending on the season. "And the heat a few weeks ago seriously compounded problems. Every employer I know made adjustments--working crews shorter hours while the crops were ripening faster." But, Hall said even with cooler temperatures in the fields, the workers just aren't out there. And, California isn't the only place where farm labor is in short supply. According to recent media reports, one farmer in Cowlitz County in Washington state reported one-third of his blueberry crop rotted in the field for want of enough pickers. Apple growers in Central Washington were scrambling to find someone--anyone--to do the important work of thinning the apple crop to ensure the best and largest fruit for harvest. The Associated Press reported that some Oregon farmers contend the U.S. government's decision to place National Guard troops along the Mexican border is contributing to a shortage of workers to pick their ripe fruit. Terry Drazdoff said farmworkers should have been harvesting 25 tons of fruit per day from his Polk County cherry orchard. Instead, he could hire only enough temporary farmworkers to pick 6 tons. In the Bradenton Herald, Mike Carlton, director of production and labor affairs at Florida Citrus Mutual, noted, "There's very little doubt we'll leave a significant amount of fruit on the trees." Orange production in Florida has been predicted to be the lowest since 1992, in part due to last year's hurricane damage. But even with a smaller crop, it appears the primary problem growers face now is a shortage of fruit pickers, Carlton said. The American Farm Bureau Federation has compiled data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Labor and from its own studies and analyzed that information in light of legislative efforts to amend existing immigration law. The conclusions are stark. AFBF has found, among other things, that if Congress enacts legislation that deals only with border security and enforcement, the impact on fruit and vegetable farmers nationwide would be between $5 billion and $9 billion annually. Net farm income in the rest of the agricultural sectors would decline between $1.5 billion and $5 billion a year. "If federal legislation is enacted that fails to take into account the unique needs of agriculture, which include our increasing dependence on hired labor, our extreme vulnerability to competitively priced foreign-grown produce and our inability either to absorb cost increases or pass those on, we will all watch as Congress takes literally billions of dollars out of the pockets of American farmers and sends it to our competitors overseas," said Stefphanie Gambrell, domestic policy economist at AFBF.

If the best the Republicans can push is a wall... don't be surprised if there's a consumer response...

(photo courtesty U.C. Riverside)


Post a Comment

<< Home