Exec Action Could Yield Farm Labor Shortage

farm visaAlready faced with an extreme labor shortage, some in the agricultural industry fear President Obama’s executive action on immigration reform will exacerbate the problem. Although full details on the reform are still being worked out, some say the emphasis on reducing deportations and the neglect on developing a strong guest worker program is a detriment to the industry.

California, which carries a $46.4 billion agricultural industry, is the nation’s leader in growing vegetables, fruits and nuts. The state is highly dependent on an immigrant workforce to bring in the crops. Agricultural experts at the University of California, Davis, estimate half the immigrant population in the state’s Central Valley are undocumented. As reported last spring, the area’s aging immigrant population makes labor even tighter in the area. And because younger workers are typically those who cross the border illegally, the president’s priorities as he laid them out in his pre-Thanksgiving speech, does nothing to help agribusiness.

According to a Yahoo News report, Jason Resnick, vice president and general counsel of the Western Growers trade association, said “This action isn’t going to bring new workers to agriculture. It’s possible that because of this action, agriculture will lose workers without any mechanism to bring in new workers.”

Western Growers estimates a current 15 to 20 percent shortage of farm workers. Of the 2.1 million farm workers in the country, the 330,000 in California account for the nation’s largest share in the category, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some estimates put as much as 85 percent of California’s agricultural workers in the undocumented category. Of those workers, an estimated 50,000 could benefit from the presidential order. According to the Yahoo News report, Manuel Cunha, president of the Fresno-based Nisei Farmers League, says it’s these workers who are most likely to leave the fields and packing houses that make up California’s agricultural industry. “How do I replace that?” Cunha is quoted as saying. “I think we’re going to have a problem.”