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Farm Bureau: Worker shortage

Farm workers are shown using machinery to apply netting to prevent fruit pollination to an orchard between Kingsburg and Hanford. California farmers say it’s increasingly difficult to hire enough workers despite a number of tactics, according to a California Farm Bureau Federation survey.

Despite taking a variety of steps to alleviate chronic shortages of agricultural employees, California farmers and ranchers continue to report problems in hiring enough people for on-farm jobs. A survey released May 3 shows 56 percent of participating farmers had been unable to hire all the employees they needed at some point during the previous five years.

The voluntary survey of 1,071 farmers and ranchers, conducted by the California Farm Bureau Federation in collaboration with the University of California, Davis, also indicated worsening problems the past two years.

Of those farmers reporting employee shortages, at least 70 percent said they had more trouble hiring employees in 2017 and 2018.

“The survey shows farmers have tried and are trying all the tactics available to them, such as increased wages, changes in farming and cropping patterns, use of the existing H-2A visa program and automation where appropriate,” CFBF President Jamie Johansson said. “The missing element is an improved agricultural immigration system, to match willing employees with farm employers.”

The great majority of California farmers responding to the survey (86 percent) said they had raised wages in efforts to hire enough people. Sixty-one percent reported they had hired a farm labor contractor to recruit employees. More than half reported they have started using mechanization and of those, 56 percent said it was due to employee shortages. Thirty-seven percent said they had adjusted cultivation practices, for example by reducing or delaying weeding and pruning. About one-third, 31 percent, said they are switching acreage. More farmers have also sought to hire people via the H-2A agricultural visa program, but only about six percent of surveyed farmers said they had enrolled in it.

“Through the years, the H-2A program has proven inadequate for farms in California and throughout the nation,” Johansson said. “Farm Bureau will continue to work with Congress to create a secure, flexible, market-based immigration program that works better for both farmers and farm employees.”

In terms of the proportion of farmers reporting employee shortages, the 2019 results are similar to a CFBF survey in 2017, which showed 55 percent of farmers experiencing shortages.

A full survey report is available on the CFBF website at www.cfbf.com/2019survey.

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