Across California, farmers and ranchers face chronic problems in finding and hiring qualified and willing people to work in agriculture, according to a survey conducted by the California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF).
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The informal survey of Farm Bureau members showed that more than half of responding farmers had experienced employee shortages during the past year.
The figure was higher among farmers who need to hire employees on a seasonal basis—69 percent of those farmers reported experiencing shortages. The results are similar to a survey CFBF conducted in 2012.
“Despite all the efforts California farmers and ranchers have made to find and hire people to work on their operations, they still can’t find enough willing and qualified employees,” CFBF President Paul Wenger said.
“Farmers have offered higher wages, benefits and more year-round jobs. They have tried to mechanize operations where possible, and have even changed crops or left ground idle. But employee shortages persist.”
When asked what actions they have taken in response to employee shortages, farmers participating in the survey most frequently cited increased wages, benefits and additional incentives.
Farmers also reported they had used, attempted or investigated mechanization; reduced cultivation activities such as pruning trees and vines; and either planted fewer acres or left some crops unharvested.
Wenger said he expects farmers to continue offering higher wages and moving toward mechanization, but that the survey results underline the need for action by Congress to improve the existing agricultural immigration program.
“Only 3 percent of the farmers in our survey said they had used the existing H-2A agricultural immigration program,” Wenger said. “Even though more farmers have tried it, H-2A remains too cumbersome for most.
“Farmers in California and elsewhere in the country need an improved system to allow people to enter the U.S. legally to work on farms and ranches.”
Farmers have been forthright about their reliance on a largely immigrant workforce, he said, noting that efforts to hire U.S.-born employees on farms have remained unsuccessful.
Wenger said Farm Bureau and other organizations would continue to work with Congress to create “a secure, flexible, market-based agricultural immigration program.” ■
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