Worker shortage threatens state crops

August 6, 2012


A plaintive, years-long cry from California farmers worried about an adequate supply of harvest laborers now is being heard statewide as the prediction – often scorned by critics — begins to materialize.

And while the looming shortage might not affect San Luis Obispo County farmers, vintners, and ranchers as much as in other parts of the state, there could be a real impact here, according to Farm Bureau legislative analyst Joy Fitzhugh.

“There are a number of farmers who have been telling me that they are having trouble finding labor. People just aren’t coming into California as much,” said Fitzhugh. “However, we don’t really  have the kind of crops in this county that require large numbers of field workers all at the same time.”

Fitzhugh cited numerous issues with which migrant workers and their prospective employers must deal: “Workers are having a bit of a problem being able to take on the jobs because of the new (immigration) regulations,” she said. “If the laborers don’t have absolute (proof of credentials), our guys are reluctant to hire them.”

Skilled packers and pickers are in short supply statewide, but still some people have criticized harvest concerns as an attempt to win sympathy for relaxation of immigration and labor laws. But strong evidence exists to show that the state’s farm workforce has shrunk dramatically. Additionally, the remaining pool of workers is aging.

Along with more rigid regulations regarding immigration and hiring of migrant workers, more crop harvesting is being done with new, specialized forms of machinery. Imported crops are increasingly common.

It’s not easy to track changes in agricultural workforce numbers because jobs are seasonal and most workers are in the United States illegally.

Although wine workers generally earn more money than most farm laborers, their numbers are thinning, too. One Northern California vintner told the San Jose Mercury News last week that he and other growers are looking to expensive mechanized harvesters to prepare for a future when too few workers are available.

The Pew Hispanic Center reported this year that the problem starts at the U.S.-Mexico border, where net migration fell to zero this year. A recent study by the organization found that the number of people intercepted at the border dropped 70%, from more than 1 million in 2005 to 286,000 in 2011. Drug-related violence and increased costs to smugglers are having an impact on immigration.

A former skeptic of the dire employment predictions is changing his tune. Five years ago he scoffed at the fears, but now UC Davis labor economist Phil Martin admits the farming community is in “a period of uncertainty.”

Fitzhugh said the local farm bureau is part of a statewide lobbying effort to bring back the so-called “green card” program.

“Although the term might not be politically correct now, the ‘green card’ program let them come into the country and then leave (when work was finished),” she said. “That is what the agricultural community has been hoping for, and has actually been lobbying for, to get that program back — because it worked.”


“As many as 1.76 million young illegal immigrants could qualify for temporary legal status under President Obama’s deferred action program, says a new report from the Migration Policy Institute”

Booty JuJu

Massive gov subsidies render ag a typical corporate welfare basketcase.


The gooberment has helped us again, that bis why we are in the position we are in, in a nut shell, in the 60’s we had the Bracero program, where workers would enter the US legally work here for farmers, and then go home, the gooberment kept a part of their wages and after a certain amount of time would return it to the workers, guess what, that didn’t happen and there is still funding left over from that today, then the program ended, and the workers came here illegel the farmers hired them and all was well, but the gooberment wasn’t getting its share of taxes so after a few years, doing what it does best it made more rules, no things are so tough you would think you were screening for terriosts, even if you have legal labore crew come in the farmer is held responsible for any infractions that happen, taxes not paid,or a worker not having the correct employment card or SS number, so as stated before the farmer is running scared and is being held against the wall.

The bracero program has been talked about again for the last few years but you know how our bunch in Sac work, if they can’t make it work for Sac it can’t work for you.

Russ J

Pay a worker what he is worth and you’ll find workers. If I have pay the true cost for my produce at the cash register then so be it. The hidden cost of farm labor comes in the form of taxes and quality of life in my community. The corporations and farmers of this country are reaping the benefits of those who come here illegally. This area used to have much more open land which was used for cattle. A significant portion of that land has been paved over with berries and grapes which require much more water and labor. I have little sympathy for those greedy profiteers that cash in on cheap labor and state water.


It is more complicated than just paying the wage the worker is worth.

Thanks to Clinton/Bush/Obama, American business people of all kinds, including agriculture interests, have to deal with competition from abroad. When it comes to produce, Central and South America are the biggest competitors.

However, they aren’t really “competitors” because they do not have to follow the same laws and regulations businesses do here in the U.S.

Worse, Congress and our President CONTINUES to allow American companies who send work abroad to foreign workers AND gives them taxpayer-funded subsidies for doing so.

This weakens the entire business economy situation, which makes businesses (including ag) even less competitive….and the cycle goes on and on.

Ted Slanders


Are you alluding to that “sucking sound” that was proffered by Ross Perot relative to NAFTA?

Regarding the last 30 years, George Carlin explains it very well.

The Gimlet Eye

Then the answer to that would be getting rid of the laws and regulations here in the U.S. which are hindering economic activity, NOT restrictions on international trade.


Where’ve you been living the last 30 years ? It’s the unrestriced international trade, slave labor imports, manufacturing outsourced to third and fourth world that have destroyed the economic engine that once was the pride of the world: The United States of America.

All so that the richest of the rich…some US citizens, but mostly multinational robber barons that owe NO allegiance to the USA , or democracy, or fairness; can live like kings while impoverishing everyone else.

You’ve bought the codswallop and see the results, but you still miss the connection.

We need MORE laws and have them enforced. We need restrictive tariffs, in reciprocative abilities toward all trading partners …instead of being an international sap and host for parasitic vampires.


Gee…Where are all those farm/agri workers now ? The Teabagger whiner-bellyachers-bigmouths sure ain’t in the fields picking berries…are they ?

They would need a knowledge of which end of the plant to pick…and hoam skuling sure don’t provide it.

I’ve heard all the epithets about “illegals” by people so stupid, you wouldn’t hire them to pick weeds or sort dirt !


Good question, almost as concerning as the fact every bit of fruit or vegetables we get at Albertsons,Ralph’s, food 4 less bla,bla,bla says product of Mexico or some other country. There must be a terrible shortage of strawberries south of the border. What ever shall we do?


They are imported from Central and South American countries because they can be produced and shipped cheaper there. That’s because they don’t have the same regulations (including helath and safety regulations) for production of the crops, nor do they have the same requirements for emissions for the vehicles used to transport them from the fields and into the U.S.

And, guess what? Taxpayers are STILL subsidizing U.S. business to send work to other countries, and to bring in products from other countries.

The Gimlet Eye

“That’s because they don’t have the same regulations (including helath and safety regulations) for production of the crops, nor do they have the same requirements for emissions for the vehicles used to transport them from the fields and into the U.S.”

Not necessarily, and not even generally. It could just as easily be that they can produce products more cheaply for other reasons, climate, soil conditions, geology, geography, etc. Keep this products out or imposing tariffs on them just makes them more expensive for American consumers. Why should the American consumer pay more just for the privilege of buying the product from someone within US borders?

Another question: how can foreigners buy US products without acquiring US currency?

If what you say is true, then I can only conclude that the power elite gangsters have passed this legislation in order to break the American middle class and reduce them to the status of serfs.

Spirit Filled

I say let them all into our country especially if they are in need in someway. If we put God first in our lives then helping people should be next in line.The US government along with our state has lost millions of dollars over the years then we bitch about paying for food and medical care for poor people, give me a break. I say complain to the people who lost all of our money.

What right do we have kicking poor people out of our country when we sit with our belly’s full and our Emergency rooms open to all. They (Mexican people) need our help, people. Reach out and hug one. Feed them and play with their kids. They love that. The kids smile and play like our own. Don’t turn them away. You go work in the fields, live in very cramped quarters, get up early and go to bed late just to have some money to send home to keepy our family’s alive. You did that we’d hear some real bitching.

It is my contention that just because we were lucky enough to be born here doesn’t give us the right to hoard it over the less fortunate.

I know there are channels to go through like your ancesters went through. By the time they are brought in legally many kids will die. And as far as I am concerned that is not God’s will. That’s man’s will. We are God’s arms and hands on earth. Doing His will is an honor. And for those that think there is no God just do these charitable things out of your love for humanity and fairness. Please.

This also includes me and my family. God Bless


We’re over run with illegals, not only in our schools, but who are also draining our social programs and ER’s dry, yet we’re short on migrant workers! Goes to show what they’re really coming here for and it isn’t to work. We need a migrant worker program and we need to deport the rest while securing the border.

A better life my a$$. Try a Better FREE life off the backs of the working taxpaying Gringos. LaRaza has infiltrated every walk of our government and we have allowed it to happen. Want to put a STOP to it, vote for Ron Paul in 2012.

The Gimlet Eye

Ron Paul is out of the picture.

Vote for Gary Johnson and Jim Gray (VP) instead.


Ron Paul keeping his job as Ben Bernanke’s boss.


Americans like to think we are such independent individuals but the fact that the vast majority of people think they “waste their vote” if they vote for anybody outside of a major–or minor–political party .

We should vote for who we think will do the best job as POTUS, and not necessarily for who one of the two major political parties which control our country try to shove on us.


You are absolutely right. We DO need a migrant worker program and the rest should be deported. It was done before and can be done again if we can get Congress members with the backbone to do it.

Could we possibly put our prisoners to work picking fruits and vegetables? Or would that be considered “cruel and unusual punishment”?


I like the prisoners idea. How about people on welfare? It would give them incentive to get of it A.S.A.P.

Ted Slanders


You’re so un-christian like that it makes Jesus and I sick!

“Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.” ( Proverbs 14:21)

“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” ( Hebrews 13:1-3)


Ted, MY TAXES are paying generously for their health and food. I donate money and other items through nurmous charities. So to ask that they do something better to better themselves now and tomorrow I don’t see the harm.

Isn’t it the old biblical thing of give a man a fish he eats for a day, teach him to fish he eats for a lifetime.

How about the good ol WTA (or whatever it was called) in the FDR days. We gave money and taugh in return. (FDR 1930:s-or:so:)


YOU DON’T GET IT. It doesn’t matter if felons or people on welfare do the field work.

It still could not be brought to market and be competitive with the produce and other foodstuffs coming up from Central and South America.

If you are faced with a head of lettuce that has a sticker reading “Grown in America, harvested by Americans” which is $10 a head and a head of lettuce that has a label that reads “Grown in Honduras, harvested by Hondurans” which is $1.00 a head, which are you going to buy?


Not sure on your thinking here??? We do presently have lettuce in the store from America (where else do you think the lettuce we grow goes) in the store selling for $1.00. Not sure on your hypothedical $10.00?


When you find a member of Congress with backbone, I will be in possesion of the Holy Grail!

Spirit Filled


“Goes to show what they’re really coming here for and it isn’t to work”.

What do you mean? Is there some kind of conspiracy going on that I’m not aware of? What are they here for? You must know something or you wouldn’t have stated it that way. Why so secretly? If I am in danger would you let me know?



I agree. Nationally, there are actually more illegal immigrants leaving the country than are entering the country.

Let’s see how those who so soundy disparage illegal farm laborerers feel about them when they are paying $10 for a head of lettuce.

The Gimlet Eye

The only reason that the business owners like having illegal alien farm workers is that they are much easier to control than American workers.

You think the scarcity of labor is bad now? In colonial times, they were desperate for laborers. The entrepreneurs came here to get rich. But how to do that without labor?

They would make people promises to come over here, they would Shanghi people, they would sign on “indentured servants” to come over here, they would transport prisoners over here, but those were still not enough to meet the demands for labor. Besides, if working conditions or life in general was unsatisfactory, labor could vote with its feet and light out for the frontier, move to another town, squat on empty land, or simply disappear. So the work forces were too unstable to suit the business owners.

Eventually, they bit the poison apple of slave labor and brought in African slaves. That worked pretty well because the Africans, being black, were easy to spot, identify, and control (or so the thinking went), whereas the White laborers could blend in anywhere.

Eventually, they realized that slavery was not such a good idea. Uniform economic development could not take place with Black slave labor in the land, and a social revolution was brewing. Denmark Vesey. Nat Turner. The Civil War.

Fast forward to our time.

Better to bypass all the drama and “workers’ rights” stuff involved with the native stock and just hire some scruffy, wayward, impoverished souls from foreign lands who have very few options, than deal with those presumptuous, spoiled, lazy, “entitled” American workers.

This is the closest that we can get to slavery and serfdom and still remain legal.

But the social revolution that it is brewing makes me shudder.

As for prices, supply and demand regulate them. To put it another way, the consumers determine them, as well as what is produced.


We need workers now. An important part of California’s economy is supported by agriculture. Agriculture has evolved to depend on workers coming up from Central and South America.

I agree, we need a better approach to farm labor for our uber-important agriculture industry in California.

However, the reality is we need laborers NOW.

The Gimlet Eye

We have laborers. Most of them will not work in the fields at the prevailing wages. How about raising the wages and stop importing the illegal aliens?

Ted Slanders


You certainly never surprise us in how anti-christian you are at times! Don’t think that Jesus didn’t take note of your outright dispicable and disparaging views regarding His creation that are not as well off as you are! Blaspheme!

Since when do you know more than the Christian God’s insired words within the bible?

“Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:42)

“Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.”

Proverbs 14:21)

“Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.” (Proverbs 14:31)

“For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:2-4)



What say you in regards to invaders from other countries?

Ted Slanders


The passages from the inspired Hebrew-Christian God are self-explanatory and do not mention invaders from other countries, etc. The passages are all-encompassing to whether the individuals are U.S. citizens, or from another country.

It amazes me that there’re alleged Christians that shout out against what the bible fully stipulates they should do. When they do, it’s like they’re saying that they know more than the God they worship. NOT!

Do you see why Hell is obviously so full of hypocritical Christians?


Not what I asked, but thanks anyway.

Ted Slanders


The obvious conclusion, is that since I am a TRUE Christian, that believes that ALL of the bible should be followed. Therefore, I agree with the biblical passages given because even if we have “invaders”, they too should be taken care of as well, so saith the Lord!


How do you know for a fact that Hell is filled with hypocritical Christians? You been their on vacation or something?

Ted Slanders


Jesus said sinners cannot enter Heaven. All sinners, most notably, those who engage in premarital sex, will be forever estranged from God.

“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

Do you know more than Jesus in His direct and absolute statements above? No, I didn’t think so. Therefore, if the stated creation listed above are not going to heaven, then HELL is the only other option! Get it?

How many times do I have to school you on Christianity?


Those who engage in premarital sex, will forever be estranged from God?

Boy Heaven is gonna be a pretty empty place.


I think there is a passage in the OT that indicates you are to lock your daughters outside of the house so that the invaders will rape them instead of bothering you and your male guest.

Ted can give you the exact verbage.

Ted Slanders

Mary Malone,

Yes dear, Ted can always come through with any needed biblical passage.

” Before they went to bed, all the men of the city of Sodom both young and old gathered around the house. They called to Lot, saying, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so we may lie with them.” Lot went out the door to the men, and shut the door behind him. He said, “My brothers, please do not be so sinful. See, I have two daughters who have never had a man. Let me bring them out to you. And do to them whatever you want. But do nothing to these men, for they have come to be safe under my roof.” (Genesis 19:4-8)

Also referring to Lot, a little time later there was a LOT of incest going on with his two daughters and him in a cave where they both subsequently got pregnant . (Genesis 19:30-38)

Our bible sets forth so many great family values.


For what it’s worth, I don’t despise my neighbor. I love my neighbor as I would my own child. This is a country of immigrants! I applaud anyone wishing to come here and be an AMERICAN! Some of my proudest moments have happened when one of my friends becomes a US citizen! BTW Hallmark really needs to make a card for that……

I am a product of immigrants, I’m third generation on my dad’s side, great grandma and great grandpa met at Ellis Island I’m told :-) Thankfully great grandma spoke seven languages so that wasn’t a problem lol

I ask only that all follow the same laws that I have to.

Jack L

Farmers should lobby for work programs and should have done that a long time ago instead of turning a blind eye towards undocumented workers. Now they are up against the wall.


I agree. And, actually, some HAVE lobbied for a worker program.

Whatever. The problem is we need workers NOW. We don’t have time to train people on welfare or felons. We need them NOW.

This will impact how much California’s farmers plant each next spring, and that will impact, in a big way, the economy of our state.


The right can’t have it both ways. They want massive crackdown on illegal immigration but they also love to apply the concept of cheap labor, so we end up in a catch 22.

There must be a way to establish a workable guest worker program that doesn’t open the doors wide open to illegal immigration.


The politicians on the right AND on the left are to blame. I don’t see the current president (definitely not part of “the right”) doing much about the problem, either.

You’re correct, though, about the need to establish a guest worker program. Along with closing the border, that needs to be done immediately.

Theo P. Neustic

Exactly, don’t blame just the right or the left. They’re all in bed together on this one. Just different motivations.


Yet it was the right that whipped up the xenophobic bigoted paranoia about the “brown hordes streaming across the border to take our jobs.”


Ok, let’s say they aren’t here to take our jobs. They’re here, if you doubt this,I can’t speak for other areas but, I invite you to visit Santa Maria for one day. You’ll see.

Theo P. Neustic

Well, clearly they’re not just after “our” jobs, they want it all and for us to provide it. They’re not getting my job due to lack of abilities but they’d be quite pleased if I’d continue to work and create businesses for them to be employed in while their offspring gradually segue to the entitlement mentality where no work is required for the perks.


Just have the 10-12 million that are here now illegally work in the fields, make it illegal for them to work in any other capacity.

Immigration, World Poverty and Gumballs – Updated 2010


You have to be kidding. The issue is a shortage of laborers.

In addition, if you think anyone can do field work, you are wrong. There are very specific practices that are involved now, and some of the practices vary from crop to crop.


Mary, please help me understand. If there is a shortage of laborers to work the fields ,does that mean the millions of immigrants here (both legal and illegal) from Mexico and South America, are doing other work?


I’m not an expert on undocumented laborers, but I have worked in the ag industry (grower) and so have some sense of trends.

I can’t speak for others, but I made it a point to not learn a lot about the personal lives of the workers I supervised. This was helped by the fact that my Spanish for the growing industry was functional and my Spanish for personal interactions–not so much.

There was a very big change when Americans and, thus, politicians, got a wild hair up their collective kiester about the “brown hordes streaming across our borders to take our jobs.”

Before that, this is how the crop labor cycle pretty much operated.

IF you were lucky, you would have a steady staff who would work for you for most of the year. However, starting in November, there would be less crop work. This is when they went home to be with family, over the Christmas holidays. Along about February they would return, and we’d start again.

While they worked here, either the employer provided basic housing, or the workers got their own housing. The housing was, from what I saw, substandard compared to what most Americans are used to.

After ten years or so, some of the men would have saved enough to buy a used truck here in America. They would then go home and set themselves up in business. In small, rural towns in Mexico, if you have a truck, you can make money because you may be the only person with a truck for miles and miles.

Others saved money to start other types of business. They came up here to work for a reason, and they sacrificed a lot–years without their family, not seeing their kids grow up–so that the family would have a better life.

When the paranoia started about workers streaming across the border, immigration and border police got much more aggressive. They weren’t catching a lot of them before for a reason, you know.

This really caused problems because the workers were afraid to try to cross the border to go home in November/December because they were afraid they would not be able to cross back into the U.S. for spring planting.

So they stayed in the U.S. the whole year–over the Christmas holidays–when they were not working, had no income, and may not have housing because they weren’t working.

The workers I worked with were men. So here’s the scenario: a bunch of men, far away from home, over Christmas (very family-oriented) holidays, without money and probably without a car because sometimes they had to sell their car to make it through until spring planting.

It was at that point that things started changing. Slowly, then more quickly, our regular, reliable workers just disappeared. I assume they went home for the holidays but because I didn’t see them again the next spring, I don’t know.

So now–thanks to NAFTA–those workers may very well be working for growers near home (presumably Central or South America), making less money but not having to deal with the insult of not being wanted in a country whose ag production they worked hard and sacrificed a lot to bring to market for a reasonable price.

Those workers–trained here in the U.S. in our efficient practices–are very likely now working for a foreign agriculture interest, who will likely drive some of our own national ag interests out of business if things don’t change.

In the midwest, thanks to the worst drought since the dustbowl days, with the highest temperatures on record in many states, we are already facing a terrible crop outlook this year (it is quickly going to reach 20% less than normal). Yet it will take more labor than usual to get even that much harvested.

How many of the midwest ag interests will be able to survive this year? Our own California farmers are facing the same next year.

The GOP used the xenophobic bigoted fear of those who don’t look and act like us to bring about a terrible change in our country. Agriculture and crop production is not like making widgets. There is a fluctuation in workers needed, from year to year. Without the workers, the crops won’t get planted and harvested.

As Frank Zappa sang, “Do you love it? Do you hate it? There it is, the way you made it.”


Thank you Mary.


Wow, a thumbs down for saying thank you. lol

Spirit Filled

Very well said Mary. Nice to hear from the “inside”.

The Gimlet Eye

We could just turn back the clock and legislate a class of serfs. That’s what they do in India. Then they would have to stay put in the dirty jobs for life, generation after generation.

But then, the social revolution going on in India right now should be carefully studied. They won’t stay down on the farm forever. And the lower castes are arming themselves in India and preparing for revolution.

What the US needs is the same thing that India needs; MORE CAPITALISM and LESS FEUDALISM.

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