Agri-businesses face labor shortage

Regional agriculture businesses have dealt with challenges from thrips, psyllid, and water shortages for decades, but the biggest test to the industry’s future may be a present and looming labor shortage.

Agri-business leaders in California and throughout the country have been sounding the alarm for years, that unless and until a new comprehensive immigration agreement can be reached by U.S legislators, growers may soon be forced to plow under their groves and fields, not because of pests and water shortages, but for a lack of skilled laborers.

California, some in the industry say, may soon become like Georgia, where tougher state immigration laws have forced immigrant workers – especially skilled pickers – to flee, leaving crops rotting on the ground.

“We are on the brink of a very serious crisis in this area, in the state and in the country as a whole,” said Eric Larson, executive director of the Escondido-based San Diego Farm Bureau.

“The immigration problem that we have in this country needs to be addressed very soon or the rest of the country is going to look a lot like Georgia, where growers have been put out of production and are just turning-up their fields.”

Larson blames a lack of action – specifically by Congress – for the current shortage of workers in the county.

“We all understand the national security concerns that must be addressed by our government – we’re completely supportive of those measures. But there is a way to maintain our security, and still allow the immigration of workers into this country. Our legislators just need to get together and work this thing out.”

Writing in the California Avocado Commission’s Spring 2012 newsletter, Ken Melban, the CAC Issues Management director, opined “the reality is that for decades the federal government has turned a blind-eye to undocumented immigrants, many of whom provide skilled labor for agriculture. To suggest that imposing new legislation in one fell-swoop will instantly correct this situation is both illogical and impractical. Some type of guest-worker program must be included that will allow the on-going utilization of this important workforce,” Melban wrote.

Even U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak is concerned about the labor immigrant issue, wrote Melban.

“We do not have the workforce to get the job done and everyone admits it is not functioning. We should be fixing it, and fixing it now,” Melban wrote of Vilsak’s comments on the issue.

Locally, grove management companies and packing houses have yet to feel the labor shortage pinch, thanks in large part to the legal, well-trained staffs they already employ. But as their current employees age and retire, a new group of workers could be difficult to find.

“Right now, we’re in good shape, but that could change if the government doesn’t get its act together,” said Jon Martin, general manager of East Brothers Grove Service.

“All of our staff is working here legally – that’s the only way we’ll have it here. Most of the people at this company have been here 20 years or more, so they’re all trained in how to do their jobs. When they retire or leave, we might have trouble replacing them because good, trained people are hard to find.”

Martin suggests lawmakers find a solution quickly or face a greater unemployment problem.

“If the government wants to keep our businesses and our country thriving, they need to fix the immigration problem and they need to do it soon. If they don’t, we may all be looking for work.”

Reuben Hofshi of Del Rey Avocado, a Fallbrook packing house, echoed Martin concerns. Hofshi says most of his employees have at least 20 years of experience and replacing them will be difficult if current immigration laws aren’t changed.

“We are very fortunate that we have people working here that have been with us for a long time,” Hofshi said.

“In the future, I don’t know how we might find their replacements. The immigration laws and all the regulations have to change. It’s just getting ridiculous. The government agencies just need to get together and decide what the law is going to be.

Part of the problem is that one group from the government wants to do it one way, and another wants to do it a different way. I don’t think the government really knows what it wants to do right now. Once they figure it out, then we won’t have the problems we’re having now.”

Larson said if the immigrant issue isn’t resolved quickly on behalf of growers, other industries will soon feel the effect of a depleted workforce.

“Those agriculture workers are vital to our entire economy – without them we’re going to be faced with crops rotting in the fields and farmers forced to go out of business,” Larson said.

“It may be hard for some people to understand, but this problem effects more than just the agriculture industry. There is a huge trickle-down effect to this crisis.”

30 Responses to "Agri-businesses face labor shortage"

  1. truth   September 6, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    the problem is they don’t just stick to the fields. they have 15-20 kids. then, they all get free education and grants and then, take all the office jobs too, if they just stuck to the fields, it would be a non-issue

  2. justwondering   September 6, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    WOW..maybe they will hire some of our " not retired by choice men"(and women) in town..who try and get jobs but are told"You are too old..since when is 48 too old???

  3. Preston   September 6, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    When a nation does not enforce their laws they will fail. We are in trouble and if we don’t make big changes now we will be no different than nations that have failed in the past. Supporting illegals is just one of the changes we need to make.

  4. Resident   September 6, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    Put an ad in the paper, like other employees.

  5. ERIN   September 6, 2012 at 7:00 pm

    I will take my chances. Lets have stricter immigration laws and see how the agriculture businesses work out. I will gladly pay a higher price for produce. To not have to subsidize free education, free meals, Medi-Cal and welfare fraud.

  6. Fallbrook res.   September 6, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    I need work! Really! I’m 50.

  7. observant   September 6, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    Reform the welfare laws and the white man will be forced to work. Of course, the welfare type white man sucketh in his work ethic so the place would probably go out of business.

  8. unemployed not by choice   September 6, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    I would like a job there, i’ve been out of work for over 3 yrs.

  9. Frosty   September 6, 2012 at 10:59 pm

    Duh! Bring back the Bracero Program! Make all who hire Immigrants from other countries( who do work hard and fill a national need ) Account for their immigrant workers, they must pay a wage, provide for their housing and medical care and be responsible for their immigrants actions at work and off work. The program worked well for thousands of immigrants for 22 years, til somebody thought it was a bad idea and when it was stopped thousands of immigrants instantly became homeless and started filling up all the creeks and canyons with illegal migrant camps.

  10. Lol   September 7, 2012 at 8:46 am

    You should go work for them. See how long you last with out calling in sick because your back is sore.

  11. Patrick   September 7, 2012 at 9:40 am

    is this some sort of joke? 23M Americans unemployed but I fear for the future of my company because I may not be able to hire illegals in the future? Bad timing on this article buddy.

  12. volunteer   September 7, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    I just volunteered to pick grapes one evening at a winery in Temecula. They too mentioned a shortage of workers. These workers get paid by the amount they harvest, averaging $14-$22/hr. If you are seriously in need of work, give them a call!

  13. Don't completely understand   September 7, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    Not understanding why immigration has to be an issue with these companies. If the local management companies are doing it the right way, why can’t the rest of them?

    "Locally, grove management companies and packing houses have yet to feel the labor shortage pinch, thanks in large part to the legal, well-trained staffs they already employ. But as their current employees age and retire, a new group of workers could be difficult to find."

    Each and every business in America has to deal with the attrition of workers whether it’s personnel retiring or moving on to another job. Why would it be any different with these grove management companies? There are currently plenty of unemployed workers available. They just need to be located, hired, trained, and paid a fair wage. It may mean cutting into the typically overexcessive salaries of CEOs and upper management, but there’s only so much money that one needs to maintain a comfortable lifestyle.

    Usually businesses don’t wait until a person is walking out the door to start training their replacement. Maybe some training in business operations would be helpful to these companies that are having to plow under their groves.

  14. also confused   September 7, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    I’m not sure I understand the point of this either. If it is skilled labor that we need then that makes more sense to hire and retain permanent workers that can be trained only once. A guest worker program would solve another need which is cheap on demand unskilled labor. The nature of ag work is that you don’t need workers all the time, but when you do you need a lot of them. I spent a few months as a seasonal immigrant worker in the vineyards and orchards of New Zealand and I can tell you it is not for everyone. You need a strong back and the ability to turn off your brain and perform the same task over and over with maximum efficiency. I agree that we need immigration reform that would allow us to fill these needs with LEGAL immigrants. Saying it will solve a SKILLED labor shortage doesn’t make much sense to me though.

  15. Re???   September 7, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    Maybe, just maybe They will hire people who need a job and belong here, this could just maybe help our economy. The reason for our economy the way it is, is because we are paying for other country’s anchor babies and their Moms and Dads. Get real America and the Government, it is an easy answer to our failing economy, stop giving everything for free for the people who have never paid into the wishing well. I am tired of this, you have to be bilingual crap, what happened to English? You cannot get a job, because you are not bilingual, is this not racist to the American people? I think it is, and why are we allowing this crap to happen to the people who have paid into this government all of their lives, just to have someone turn their back on them because they are not bilingual. WAKE UP AMERICANS!!

  16. dedicated dourly   September 7, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    To those of you getting angry at hard-working immigrants, you really should be angry at our greedy corporations who send jobs overseas.

  17. where is your heart?   September 7, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    After reading all these idiotic comments, it makes me pray for God to bring his Kingdom! Just like non of you take into consideration that these "immigrants"are human beings just like you and me God won’t have mercy on you either. I have met some of the people who work there and they are honest, hard working men who would not think twice about helping someone in need. On the other hand I would not want to be near any of you in time of need. Where are you hearts. Land of equality B***S***!!!

  18. Pessimistic   September 7, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    Glad to read ‘Re???’ tapped on the bilingual aspect of this problem. Spanish speaking immigrants (and many illegal aliens) have forced so many companies to REQUIRE being bilingual, or Spanish speaking only being "okay". This goes for many skilled jobs, such as office workers, medical assistants, clerks, etc. I call BS on that! But, we have ALLOWED it to happen because too many people had their heads buried deep in their own rectums these past 20-25 years. And let’s not forget that this ‘ME’ generation are a majority of lazy brats who would never think of doing this type of work, not only due to laziness of the attitude that the agriculture industry is BENEATH them! There was once a time when manual labor, as an occupation, was considered a manly endeavor. We are our own worst enemies…

  19. 1ST Air Cav   September 7, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    One will have to agree with a few of the comments posted that it is hard to understand the point of the growers. Why don’t the growers utilize the H-2A Visa Program?

    The Visa allows foreign nationals to work as temporary agricultural wokers, permits the holder to travel in and out of the U.S. and permits dependents to stay in the U.S. while they are working.

    Of course these workers are to be covered by U.S. wage laws, workers compensation and other applicable standards.

    What about the idea of unemployed American citizens working on the farms?

  20. Mom of lots   September 7, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    Of all the comments, I like Frosty’s idea the best. Seems logical, fair, workable, ethical, and benefits all involved.

  21. shell   September 8, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Why dont these farmers advertise their hiring needs to the local legal community. On the east coast we had steel mills lots of hard work manual labor but they did it. Heck I am a girl but if I need a job and to make money I have no problem working in a field if it means food on my table ….its gardening right? Hire us legal US people first please.

  22. Shell   September 8, 2012 at 11:37 am

    What farmers need workers? Please have them post and then post the hours and pay and that way we can apply of we want to work. I know a few people who want to work and would do this. Stop speading the rumors that we Americans are lazy. We are not now how do we get hired I challenge these complaining farmers.

  23. Re???   September 8, 2012 at 10:03 pm


    Here, here!! I am also so tired that some people state taht Americans are lazy. Have you seen some of these people laying around the grounds of apartment complexes or around trees? Whos is lazy? Having many children that they cannot even watch or take the proper care of, but collecting money from a country that they had not contributed into, who’s lazy? Gimme a break, earn your keep, learn the language, speak the language, have respect for the country that has put up with your crud and the mooching that you know how to do. Talk the language of OUR country!!!

  24. MT   September 8, 2012 at 11:44 pm

    In Maui, endless acres of pineapple have been ploughed under due to the high cost of labor. You are wrong if you don’t think this can happen in California. Don’t be so shortsighted. This is a real issue that will become a problem if it is not addressed. Even President Bush agreed with immigration reform for agricultural reasons.

  25. XYZ   September 9, 2012 at 8:08 am

    I have to agree with 1st Air Cav and the solution is to utilize the H-2a Visa program and sponsor temporary agricultural workers to fill the current and future needs. However, that would most likely be too hard and extra work for most companies therefore they complain about the issue until we are all sick of it. The laws already exist to solve this issue yet the Farm Bureau and other associations promoting mass immigration using this as an example continues.

    If you haven’t noticed there is mass unemployment in the area and one commenter above noted the issue of age discrimination which in fact is alive and well in California and is illegal. If one is over 45 here you most likely will never work again if one has been laid off. There are plenty of people to choose from yet the age-old let the immigrants in continues.

    This issue, however, will pale compared to the damage to agriculture under the new Cap N Trade auction beginning in November. Agriculture will suffer wildly due to exponential increasing costs of energy, water and fertilizers. May not need these farm laborers after all. Extra costs for the new low carbon fuels will by 2014 add in excess of $2.50 per gallon to fill up your car from the current existing rates today here in California and only in California. Wineries, as a capped industry will each have to pay up to $2 million dollars each to pay to play or continue business.

    There may be no need for increased agricultural employment in this area.

  26. law   September 9, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    I think that all illegal immigrtants work harder than the those that are american people don’t even work hard they get tired for working only litke

  27. gardener   September 10, 2012 at 9:04 am

    I’ve got 25 yds of compost. If you are that old, unemployed white American who wants hard work email me [email protected] That way we can put it to a test!

  28. yeah   September 10, 2012 at 9:08 am

    cool immigration

  29. Really?   September 10, 2012 at 9:17 am

    Pigeonholing migrant workers into certain menial type jobs just so you can have cheap produce is the REAL bigotry. But then, most liberals are elitists, and elitists do need their servant class, don’t cha’ know.

  30. MT   September 10, 2012 at 10:16 am

    This is about out food supply. If the farmers factor in higher labor costs, etc. then, we will be like Europe and pay top prices for food. This way California would no longer be subsidizing America’s food supply and shouldering the cost of a non-income taxed immigrant community.

    Go down to an American Citizen ceremony. You will find that a mass of new citizens are foreign nationals who have served our armed forces as a pathway to citizenship. Why haven’t those who have contributed to putting food on our tables for years be allowed the same priveledge?

    Again this is a real issue (not a liberal or a conservative) but a problem that needs attention (one way or the other) for the sake of our food security. We have been operating on an antiquated system that needs reform.


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