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July 2019, Volume 25, Number 3

California: Shortages, Housing

Farmers continue to complain of labor shortages. Dan Sutton of the Pismo Oceano Vegetable Exchange testified in May 2019 that "labor is one of the most concerning issues that we are facing." Pismo's workforce is 85 percent H-2A workers but, according to Sutton, "the H-2A program gives us the labor we need, but it is extremely expensive as we have to provide housing and transportation." Sutton said that mechanization is the long-term solution to harvest specialty crops.

A California Farm Bureau Federation-UCD survey of growers in Spring 2019 found that 56 percent of the 1,071 respondents could not hire as many workers as they wanted at some point during the previous five years, rising to 70 percent in 2017-18. As a result, more than a third delayed activities such as weeding or pruning, or did less of these activities than in the past.

In response to fewer workers and rising wages, over half of respondents are using mechanization where available, a third are changing crops, often switching from crops harvested by hand to tree nuts, and some are raising wages to attract and retain employees. Over 60 percent of respondents used farm labor contractors to obtain workers during the previous five years, but only six percent of respondents began to use the H-2A program.

The Monterey county agricultural commissioner's report profiled 10 women farm workers. One of the workers profiled was an unauthorized crew boss whose husband complained of unfair competition from H-2Aworkers, who get free "transportation, housing and a full paycheck." Social Security taxes are not paid on the wages of H-2A workers.

Housing. The Galilee Center's Our Lady of Guadalupe Shelter, located in a former grape packing plant in Mecca, provides housing for Coachella Valley farm workers during the peak May-June table grape harvest. However, Mary Ingebrand-Pohlad, who provided funding to open the shelter in December 2017, stopped supporting the Shelter in November 2018 when it began accepting asylum seekers, including 1,100 in January-February 2019.

Assembly Bill 1783, the Farmworker Housing Act, aims to get farm worker housing built faster by subjecting it to state-level review rather than local rezoning processes. AB 1783 would require a nonprofit to operate the farm worker housing, even if it is on private land, drawing objections from employers. Salinas in 2019 changed its ordinances to allow farm workers to be housed in hotels and motels for up to 12 months, up from 28 days.

Harris Ranch Beef, which has a feedlot in Coalinga and a processing plant in Selma, was sold in April 2019 to Hanford-based Central Valley Meat Company. Harris has revenues of over $400 million a year, and the feedlot has capacity for 250,000 cattle.

Salinas ex-farm worker Adolfo Gonzalez earned his bachelor's degree in 2019 at age 58. Gonzalez is from a Zapoteco-speaking community in Oaxaca, and grew up in Oaxaca City before paying $20 to a smuggler to enter the US illegally in 1986, too late to qualify for amnesty. Gonzalez spent two decades doing farm work, and obtained legal status via his wife, whom he married in 1992. While working, Gonzalez earned a GED and then completed community college before earning a degree in Spanish. He plans to obtain a teaching credential and teach.

Dinuba-based Westpak, a grower and shipper of citrus, tree fruit and table grapes, in May 2019 agreed to pay $4,000 to settle charges that it demanded more work-authorization documents from legal immigrants than US citizens who sought jobs.

The 50,000 acre N3 Cattle Company ranch for 1,500 cattle that straddles several eastern Bay Area counties was offered in July 2019 for $72 million.