California farms are suffering from a labor shortage due to the lack of a comprehensive immigration policy, and are increasingly turning to machines and technology to cope with the lack of employees, according to a new study.
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According to the California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF), more than 50 percent of farmers in California said they have been unable to find the necessary workers required to produce their main crop over the past five years. Of those respondents, 70 percent said the problem became increasingly worse in 2017 and 2018.
“What’s interesting in this survey is that decisions are being made on the farms that will really affect the next generation of people on that land,” Jamie Johansson, the president of CFBF, told FOX Business.
Faced with a lack of eligible workers, California farmers are being forced to significantly scale back their output. Close to 14 percent of respondents said they were reducing harvest, while about 15 percent said they were delaying their harvest as a result of the worker shortage.
Although that side-effect is unlikely to send prices higher, it likely will limit the amount of locally sourced food in the U.S., Johansson said.
That’s because California is one of the biggest food producers in the U.S., accounting for more than 13 percent of the country’s total agricultural value, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. That includes more than a third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of the country’s fruit and nuts. In 2017, the state’s agricultural exports generated a whopping $20.56 billion.
The reason behind the shortage is largely attributable to the lack of a comprehensive immigration policy, Johansson said, as well as the increase in security along the U.S.-Mexico border. One of President Trump’s main interests while in the Oval Office has been to curtail illegal immigration.
Despite raising wages, hiring in the agricultural sector remains relatively flat. 86 percent of respondents said they had hiked wages in order to woo new workers. And while Johansson said farmers are encouraged to use technology and mechanization to circumvent the problem, it’s costly for smaller farms.
In order to address the problem, Johansson said farm organizations have been meeting with local members of Congress, as well as Trump administration officials, to try to get an immigration policy that’s friendly to farmers, including flexibility in the length of work visas and the ability for workers to move from farm to farm.
“They all recognize there is a labor shortage that is affecting farmers negatively,” Johansson said. “The biggest part is working out the politics, which really gets in the way of doing what’s right for constituents, as well as farmers all across the country.”