Farm Bureau survey: Ag worker shortages increasing

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.

Lemoore City Council approved two letters supporting federal legislation pertaining to undocumented agricultural workers and “Dreamers” to be sent to California’s Senators during Tuesday’s meeting.

The letters were originally submitted by the Nisei Farmers League as a single letter addressing both the Farm Workforce Modernization Act and the need for legislation on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Lemoore is among 18 other cities to approve support for the letters.

The bill, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives in March and will continue to the Senate, updates the temporary agricultural worker visa to allow some undocumented workers to receive a visa, along with other provision for those workers.

Nisei Farmers League President Manuel Cunha Jr. said the main issue with the act is that the definition of agricultural employers doesn’t include all the agriculture jobs filled by undocumented workers, including packing houses and processing plants.

“The only time agriculture doesn’t become agriculture as a product is when we change its identity,” Cunha said. “Apricots, picked, put in a box, go to the packing house, but when I take it to Smuckers and crush it and do all those great things, and put it in a fantastic jam, it is no longer agriculture in the sense of treating it as a farm product.”

Cunha also said, for many families working in agriculture, farm production and processing are inseparable.

The letter, which will be sent to senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla, asks that workers in packing and processing be included under the definition of farm workers.

It also asks for legislative action be taken for “Dreamers,” or undocumented residents who were brought to the US as children. The original letter said many of those people are children of agriculture workers and the lack of legislation leaves those families without stability.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Texas Supreme Court recently ruled the DACA policy was illegal. Cunha said the ruling stated immigration policy could not be made by executive order, but could be made by legislation through the house and senate.

“We can no longer separate these families,” he said.

Councilman David Orth asked the original letter we split into two, one pertaining to the Farm Workforce Modernization Act and the other about legislation for “Dreamers,” saying he felt they were important but unrelated issues.

“To lump a ‘Dreamers’ argument into farming, to me that’s apples and oranges,” Orth said. “My suggestion would be support the farming side of it and let’s wait to see on the ‘Dreamers’.”

Councilman Frank Gornick moved to approve support for the agriculture worker and ‘Dreamer’ issues in separate letters. That motion passed 3-1, with Orth voting no and Mayor Stuart Lyons absent.

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