California is home to more than 350 different crops. As Immigration Reform looms, the state's farmers and ranchers fear labor shortages could ultimately force them to switch to less labor intensive crops.
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed its version of Immigration Reform late last night. American Farm Bureau told AgDay while several amendments were passed; the 844-page bill remains largely untouched.
Even though the bill still has battles ahead, making it out of Committee signifies progress for California farmers desperate for workers. Asparagus grower Barb Cecchini fears labor shortages could ultimately change the landscapes of California agriculture today.
"Labor ranks as my problem as number one, two and three," she says. "I believe I’m probably going to be getting out of the industry in the next five years. I don't have any plans to plant new asparagus, and you have to have new asparagus coming in all the time."
California Farm Bureau says she’s not alone. Last year, 61 percent of surveyed growers in the state reported labor shortages.
A case study published jointly with Partnership for a New American Economy and the Center for Global Development shows the impact lack of labor is having on North Carolina farmers, as well.
The study concluded:
- The number of guest worker visas should remain uncapped and not depend on local or national unemployment rates.
- In 2011, out of 6,500 available farm jobs available in the state, only 268 out of the 500,000 unemployed North Carolina residents applied for these jobs.
- Of those applicants, more than 90% were hired, and only 7% remained at the end of the season.
Meanwhile, California Farm Bureau says with not enough workers, farmers are forced to make a difficult decision.
"Do I let acres go fallow, do I sell my land, do I go into other crops," says Rayne Pegg, Manager of Federal Policy for California Farm Bureau. "And it’s really a question of who can survive under that model."
Lodi, California grape grower Wendy Moore has similar concerns.
"What I want, as an individual farmer, is I want to know there is a skilled workforce that is available, at the time the work needs to be done."