Reporting Amy Johnson
VENTURA (CBSLA.com) — Farmers in the Midwest have been suffering from a shortage of water and, now, California growers are saying they’re suffering from their own kind of shortage.
Growers, like Leavens Ranch in Santa Paula, say their crops are going to waste because there aren’t enough laborers to prune their fields.
“This is some of the work we deferred earlier this year because we didn’t have the labor to do it,” said Leslie Leavens-Crowe, as she pointed to a cluster of avocado branches on the ground.
Like so many other farmers across Ventura County and the state, the Leavens Ranch is dealing with a shortage of farm workers.
“We have a real train wreck coming because we know that the labor shortage this year — we had about 30 percent less this year than we normally do. This is the first time this had happened,” Leavens-Crowe said.
One local farmer said labor was so tight last season that he left product behind and wasn’t able to fill all his orders.
“We’re really concerned about what’s going to happen come September, October, November, December — at that time, we’re going to have a confluency of tomato planting, summer strawberries, bell pepper harvest and chile pepper harvest. So, all that’s going to be happening all at once,” said Robert Roy, president and general council of the Ventura County Agricultural Association.
Farm labor is typically a generational line of work and many of the workers have gotten too old to work the field. Many of their children have chosen other kinds of jobs.
There are others who have stayed away due to fear.
“Number one, we have increased border enforcement. Number two, a lot of people who go back to Mexico every year and come back to California for the harvest are scared to do so because of the drug cartels,” Roy said.
The demand for workers has led to an increase in wages, which has made it all the more difficult for farmers.
“We may end up not being able to harvest our fruit next year,” Leavens-Crowe said. “That’s a possibility.”
Relief may come as agencies work with Congress on establishing guest worker permits and visas for experienced workers already in California.