Farmers who last year began to feel the pinch of a labor shortage that left them scrambling to find workers to pick their crops in time say this year is shaping up to be even worse, as the number of Mexicans crossing the border in search of work continues to decline.
A combination of factors including immigration crackdowns, an aging Mexican population and improved prospects at home may actually have reversed the flow of migrant workers to the United States, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. While many of the reasons represent good news — fewer undocumented workers, more opportunities that allow Mexican citizens to make a living without leaving home — the trend has farmers in California and other parts of the U.S. fearing for their crops.
As farmers head into the busy harvest days of summer, they worry that they’ll wind up plowing under crops as many did last season, according to a story in the San Francisco Chronicle. And, of course, scarcer supplies mean higher produce prices for consumers and restaurants. In California’s San Joaquin County, cherry grower Skip Foppiano told the paper he has 20% to 30% fewer pickers this season and rising temperatures may mean his crew won’t be able to pick all the cherries before they begin to rot on the trees. “It’s a hard time. And I’m hearing lots of other growers complaining about it.”
Some of the region’s farmers say they’re tailoring their crops to a smaller workforce, either switching to less labor-intensive produce or planting fewer crops in the first place, a trend that not only cuts their income but also leads to less fresh produce and higher prices in the marketplace.
Farmers across the country say U.S. workers don’t have the stamina and staying power to pick the crops, even when unemployment is high and jobs off the farm are scarce. Meanwhile, lawmakers and officials who oppose proposals that would let migrant workers travel to U.S. farms for harvest season, say paying a higher wage would go a long way toward persuading Americans to take — and keep — the backbreaking jobs, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Meanwhile, New York farmworkers and farmers are debating a bill that’s before the state Legislature that aims to improve pay and working conditions. The bill would “grant farmworkers collective bargaining rights, workers’ compensation, overtime pay and unemployment benefits, establish an eight-hour work day, with 24 hours of rest a week, as well as create standards for working conditions, like sanitation and language translation,” the Legislative Gazette reported Friday.
Do governments need to step in and help farmers figure out how to secure enough help to bring the harvest in? Share your thoughts in the comments.