Here's an ag article from the Capital Press that sheds some light on the complications of the immigration problem. Thoughts?
Labor shortage could mean crisis for ag
California Staff Writer
DAVIS – Growers and farm labor contractors are scrambling to find enough workers to harvest their crops this fall and some say the worker shortage is escalating to crisis proportions.
Western Growers, the agricultural trade association that represents growers, packers and shippers of fresh fruits and vegetables in California and Arizona, is asking government officials to recognize the labor crisis.
Western Growers estimates that in the Central Valley alone, there is a shortage of about 70,000 farmworkers.
“It’s quickly reaching a crisis level and it’s possibly already done so,” said Tim Chelling, a spokesman for the industry group.
Chelling said growers are likely to lack the field workers needed to harvest some of the fall and winter crops in California. If crops are left in the field, an economic crisis will likely follow, he said.
Western Growers is appealing to the Department of Homeland Security and state governments in California and Arizona to help provide a stable work force for agriculture, while still securing the nation’s borders.
“The time to act has now arrived,” said Tom Nassif, president of Western Growers. “We are not asking for action to resolve the nation’s overall immigration crisis in the next couple of weeks. We know that’s simply not possible and completely unrealistic. We are asking for officials to acknowledge this labor crisis in agriculture and provide immediate remedies so that farmers, consumers and state economies don’t suffer what amounts to completely avoidable economic damage.”
There are many reasons why California doesn’t have the number of workers it has in the past, said Luawanna Halstrom, general manager and chief operating officer of Harry Singh and Sons, a company that produces vine-ripened tomatoes near San Diego.
Tighter border control and random raids have reduced the number of workers crossing the borders. The construction business is booming in California, pulling workers away from agriculture and into higher-paying jobs. Mexican workers are also opting to work in Canada under that country’s guest worker program.
“Agriculture is crying out for a legal means to hire labor,” said Halstrom, who also serves on the labor committee for the American Farm Bureau Federation. “That’s what we need. We’ve never been in more dire straits.”
Earlier this year, federal lawmakers introduced the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits, and Security Act of 2005, better known as the AgJOBS Bill, which could provide farmers a stable workforce.
While the bill is widely supported by agriculture, a similar piece of legislation failed last year due to lack of support from President George W. Bush and the Republican leadership.
The only way Halstrom says she has been able to find a consistent seasonal workforce for her business is by relying on outdated immigration policies and providing housing for employees.
“It is extremely difficult,” she said. “It has affected our ability to farm the way we normally would. It has cost us.”
Right now, the labor shortage is impacting the Central Valley’s raisin industry, where thousands of acres are waiting to be harvested.
The Nisei Farmer’s League has been trying to find labor anywhere it can to help farmers – even considering using parolees, a plan that didn’t work.
Nisei has also appealed for help from the Employment Development Department offices in the Central Valley, but so far the state agency has only been able to call up the names of several thousand unemployed workers who might be able to work in the agricultural industry.
“We just can’t get the crops harvested,” said Manuel Cunha, president of the Fresno-based group. “We’ve got to develop immigration programs that fit the industry,” he said.
Halstrom said the current labor shortage reminds her of the days following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center.
Nearly 75 percent of her workforce didn’t pass detailed checks following the attacks. Although the company immediately looked into utilizing the existing federal guest worker program, which many say doesn’t suit agriculture’s needs, it took 45 days to get enough workers to continue harvesting their perishable commodity.
“And then when (the workers) got here, it took them two weeks just to clear out the rotten fruit,” Halstrom said. “We lost $2.5 million in a 45-day period. It was absolutely devastating.”
Halstrom hopes politicians will hear agriculture’s call for help.
“I think this country needs to understand that a critical element of its national security is to have a safe and reliable food source,” she said. “If there’s an interruption (in our food supply), the country has basically a seven-day supply of food.”
That’s reason enough not to continue sweeping the immigration problem under the carpet, she said.