California now has admitted to a $16B deficit. This does not include the billions(over $10B) borrowed from the feds to extend unemployment benefits. So, we are going deeper and deeper in debt to pay benefits when unemployment levels are in double-digits all over the state and 15%+ in the San Joaquin Valley. Yet, farmers can't find enough employees to harvest their crops. Do we really want to keep borrowing money for people who say they want a job, but don't want some jobs because they say they're just too hard?
Why do we have a shortage of labor when there's 15%+ unemployment? We're not sure we can even list for you the names of the possible welfare programs in addition to unemployment benefits available to the people of California. This is from the website 'How to Apply for Welfare in California": The most popular welfare programs for low income people are WIC (food for Women, Infant and Children), Cash Aid, food stamps, and General Relief. The latest stats show that although California has only 12% of the country's population, we have 32% of all welfare cases. We are not experts in this area, fortunately, but we can bet that a lot of California residents are. They know the ins and outs and how to work the system.
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Farmers scrambling to find harvest labor
Skip Foppiano of Morada Produce is praying for cool weather. The San Joaquin County grower and packer is thick into cherry harvest season and is short on labor - 20 to 30 percent fewer pickers than he had last year.
If it gets too hot, his smaller-than-usual workforce won't have time to get all the cherries off the trees before they rot. Farmers across California are experiencing the same problem: Seasonal workers who have been coming for decades to help with the harvest, planting and pruning have ped off in recent years. With immigration crackdowns, an aging Mexican population, drug wars at the border and a weakened job market in the United States, the flow of migrants has stopped and may actually have reversed, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research firm that has been studying the trend.
"We're scrambling," Foppiano said, adding that he's also experiencing a labor shortage in Fresno, where he owns additional cherry orchards. "It's a hard time. And I'm hearing lots of other growers complaining about it."
After cherries, Foppiano will move into onion season and then bell peppers, all of which need to be hand-harvested. A third-generation farmer whose success has always depended on the whims of Mother Nature, he's not ready to panic over a shortage of workers - yet.
Reason to worry
But the American Farm Bureau Federation and its California chapter believe there is plenty of reason to worry.
"There have been instances in which growers had to disc up whole crops because they didn't have the workforce to harvest," said Kristi Boswell, the Farm Bureau's director of congressional relations. She points to Georgia, where whole tomato fields were plowed under last year. "The workforce has been decreasing in the last two to three years, but last year it was drastic."
And farmers are saying this year is even worse. Growers have tried to hire more domestic workers and had hoped that with unemployment rates so high they'd find local labor.
"But domestic workers don't stick around to finish the job," Boswell said. "It's labor intensive and often involves hand picking in grueling conditions."
Of the 1.2 million people employed in agriculture-related jobs in the United States, 70 percent are undocumented, according to the Pew Research Center. But that will likely change.
A report released last month by the center shows that only 375,000 people left Mexico - the vast majority coming to the United States - from November 2010 to November 2011, compared with 1.05 million people five years earlier.
Jeff Passel, a senior demographer with the Pew Hispanic Center, said a significant in U.S. Border Patrol detentions backs up Pew's figures.
"There is not as big an excess of labor in Mexico as there once was," he said, adding that in the 1970s, women in Mexico on average were having seven babies, a number that dipped to 2.4 children in 2000. "There are fewer reasons for people to leave Mexico, since in the last few years the economy there has done reasonably well and it's harder and more expensive to get into the U.S."
Passel said a person without documents is likely to pay a smuggler $2,500 to $3,000, and the associated violence and danger has increased. States in the South and Southwest, including Arizona, have passed stricter laws on immigration. In 2010 President Obama assigned 1,200 National Guard troops to help monitor the border. And more states require businesses to use E-Verify, an Internet system that checks whether a worker is legal, Boswell said.
In San Mateo County, home to Brussels sprouts, English peas, fava beans, pumpkins, leeks, green beans and various flower varieties, growers say they are having more trouble than ever getting enough workers - especially at harvest time, said Bill Gass, executive director of the San Mateo County Farm Bureau.
"To fill the gap, some farmers are using farm labor contractors primarily from the Salinas Valley," Gass said, adding that those contractors give first priority to Salinas growers and if the two have overlapping harvests, San Mateo County farmers risk losing part of their crops.
"As a result, some of them are either switching to crops that are less labor intensive, or not planting as much," he said. "Obviously, not planting as much is going to impact their income. And it will also decrease the quantity of fresh local produce that is available."
In the Napa Valley, where growers are in the midst of thinning grapevine shoots, they've upped hourly wages $1 to $3 to entice workers away from other agriculture areas, said Steve Matthiasson, of Premiere Viticultural Services.
"I've heard in some cases of signing bonuses," he said. "There's talk that vineyards are paying $3,000 as an incentive to crew bosses to bring in a van load of workers from somewhere else."
Kelly Brakel, a vineyard manager for Lange Twins Vineyard in the San Joaquin Valley, would typically have 200 workers by now to prepare vines for the height of the growing season, he said. He has only 60. So, he's increased wages 25 to 30 percent, he said.
"I've never had this happen," he said, adding that by June 10, work in the vineyards begins to wind down. Now he'll be lucky if he's done by July. "And if I have to, I'll cut the size of my vineyards."
In 2011, Georgia had a shortage of 5,244 farm laborers and losses of $74.9 million in seven crops, according to that state's Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association.
California has yet to calculate its losses, but Bryan Little, director of labor affairs for the state's Farm Bureau Federation, said some asparagus growers have already had to disc up their fields because there weren't enough pickers.
"You would think with the unemployment rate being what it is, people here would take these jobs," Little said. "But Americans have self-ed away from this kind of work. It's not because the pay is low. It's because the work is hard.
"I thought we might have five to 10 years to fix this labor shortage problem," he said. "Now, we might not."