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Farmworker shortage raises worries grapes will go unpicked | News

This sign first appeared last fall when Central Valley edible viticulture farmers could not find enough workers to prun the vines. A month after the harvest, it became clear that there were not enough farmers in California to harvest.

The number of workers has reportedly declined by a quarter to 40 percent in the first annual labor shortage in decades. People familiar with this situation rank labor shortages as the industry’s biggest challenge before drought.

While there is a recent shortage of workers in many industries, the shortage of qualified grape workers is unique. Producer costs have risen across the board, including reducing the number of hours agricultural workers spend in a week before overtime begins from 60 to 45 hours due to state regulations (later triggered). Will be 40 hours).

“Just a reality”

This year’s crops are of high quality on all accounts, as abundant as last year, and enjoy historically average prices. However, there are not enough people to choose everything, so it can rot in the vines.

Ian LeMay, chairman of the California Fresh Fruits Association’s trade association, said: “In the end, you may see fruit left in the orchard. That’s just reality.”

As the problem worsened over the years, producers have gradually invested in mechanical innovations that make harvesting more efficient. Recently, some people bring guest workers from other countries to work. Meanwhile, the industry continues to push for immigration reform, which could take action in the US Senate shortly after passing the House of Representatives.

Rick Deckard, an edible viticulture grower in the Irvine region, said it was difficult to retain workers on-site during the harvest, especially when it was “really, very hot.” For the first time this year, he decided to hire a labor contractor instead of hiring workers directly. He said it saved a few percentage points on his human resources-related costs.

He said the product looks good, even though his water supply is stagnant and heat stress in July accounted for 20% of his production. Prices started high this season, settled as usual, and could rise again in October, he said.

STUCK AWHILE

Mr. Deccard said he is considering sticking to labor contractors, as many valley growers do.

“We think we’ll probably get stuck in this (missing) for some time,” he said.

Grapes are one of California’s most labor-intensive crops. According to the latest data available, these are also the second highest-selling crops in Kern County.

A July report from Rabo Research noted positive developments in the edible grape industry, from growing global demand to opportunities to differentiate products with high-quality varieties.

The report also focuses on challenges such as intensifying international competition, especially for California producers, such as labor and water shortages.

RaboResearch reported that these two cost challenges distinguish what is otherwise typical of the year. He also pointed out that labor issues do not belong solely to California.

International affairs

Chile, a major exporter that experienced difficulties in 2020, faces a fixed labor shortage of 49%, due to COVID-19 infection, lack of childcare and lack of immigrants. Peru now demands that edible grape producers pay 30% higher than the country’s minimum wage, but said Mexico’s minimum wage has increased by 60% in four years.

Manuel Cunha, chairman of the Fresno-based Nisei Farmers League, has watched the shortage disappear since last year’s pruning agenda. After that, I had a hard time doing all the planting in the spring, but the harvest is now a problem again as it matches the strong labor demands of other fruits, vegetables, dairy products and poultry.

He said quarantine was part of the problem. Some farmers claim that their workers are at home and are in the interests of the government, but many are documented because they need a valid Social Security number to apply for assistance. Cunha said it might be common to farmers who are not immigrants.

He said the solution was not to bring in more guest workers. He said help was limited because they were only allowed to stay for a relatively short period of time. Instead, Nissei advocates granting experienced and long-time grape workers permanent residence through the immigration law of agricultural workers pending in the Senate.

“If they don’t solve this problem, we’ll lose more workers,” he said.

Legislative efforts

Le May of the Fruits Association said the Senate could eventually advance the immigration bill for agricultural workers. Trade associations also support legislation that considers related issues that grant resident rights to migrants brought to the country as children.

“We need to improve our ability to bring a new workforce to the United States, but we also need to identify ways to establish legal reconciliation for some individuals working in the United States who are currently engaged in agriculture,” he said. Stated.

Farmworker shortage raises worries grapes will go unpicked | News Source link Farmworker shortage raises worries grapes will go unpicked | News

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