Ever since the Trump administration restarted the enforcement of U.S. immigration law — enforced sparingly under the Obama administration — California farmers have been complaining about a labor shortage.
A state mandated $15 minimum wage and overtime pay for farmworkers isn’t helping California famers, who are already overburdened by so many new regulations every year.
Farmers whose business model makes them largely dependent on laborers who illegally enter the United States for work are upset over the change.
“If we can’t change the way we’re doing business, we’re at risk,” said Brad Goehring, a fourth-generation wine grape grower in Lodi said in an interview with Sacramento’s local CBS affiliate, CBS 13.
Goehring is among the growing number of agricultural businessmen in California who have tried a number of strategies to lure workers. From putting ads in the paper to offering benefits such as health insurance and 401(k)s, Goehring has even increased pay on certain jobs up to $22 an hour.
‘Really nothing seems to work when you raise your wages, the guy next door raises his — just keeps going up,’” he told CBS 13.
That raises an obvious question: Why so few farmwokers?
“People from rural Mexico are not going into farm look [sic] like they did before,” University of California Davis Professor of Agriculture J-Edward Taylor told CBS 13.
According to Taylor, “more than 90 percent of our hired farm workers — come from Mexico, but we’re seeing 150,000 fewer farm workers each year.”
“Young people growing up in rural Mexico are getting more education that gives them a ticket to higher paying jobs that demand more skills and provide them with more stable employment than they would get in agriculture. This is a case in which what is good news for Mexico, is bad news for CA farm work,” Taylor reportedly said.
In an interview with a local Fresno ABC affiliate (KVSN-30) farmer Joe Del Bosque of Los Banos offered another explanation. Del Bosque said that it is becoming harder and more expensive for undocumented farm workers to come to the U.S. illegally. So he has turned to the jobless to take on the back-breaking work.
‘When we start harvesting melons in July it’s already hot and if people go out there and it’s 100 degrees people get discouraged. Usually they don’t — a lot of them just say this is too much I’ll look somewhere else or I’ll go on unemployment.’”
Some farmers are just quitting the business altogether because it no longer pays with escalating costs, brought on by government mandates and falling prices for some crops, according to a Los Angeles Times story:
“There’s not enough guys, and everybody is fighting for everybody else’s guys,’ one farmer told the Times. ‘In Napa and Sonoma, they’re getting $2,000 a ton [for grapes]. So, those guys can afford to pay $15. For me, I’m just trying to break even.’”
Other farmers, who have given up hope for a guest worker program under the Trump administration, are investing in technology to replace the need to depend on migrant farm laborers. Still others are pulling up labor intensive crops in favor of those that can be managed by very few workers.
According to the CBS 13 report, some machinery — a leaf puller, for instance — can replace 25 workers.
In addition, farmers may shift crops in response. Goehring told CBS 13 that he may replace his grape crop with almond trees, which can be harvested by just a few workers.