October 3, 2016

Ag Labor is Declining. We Need Better Policy, More Technology.

There is a severe ag labor shortage and it’s only going to get worse. Changing demographics and stringent regulatory barriers are causing the flow of workers crossing the border to dramatically slow down. These are the workers that help us harvest our crops—the workers that are crucial in providing the nutritious fruits and vegetables that feed our families.

As it is, rows of crops are left to rot in the field because there are not enough workers to help pick them. With an immigration reform not likely to pass anytime soon, the struggle for farm owners to find workers will continue. This is the largest workforce shortage I’ve seen since being here at Western Growers, and the ag industry is still getting hit with regulations that are preventing us from recovering.

Just last month, AB1066 (the ag overtime law) was signed by Governor Brown, repealing the 10-hour/day and 60-hour/week overtime threshold. This is on top of the minimum wage increase. What Sacramento doesn’t understand is that the increased pay and overtime benefits aren’t going to attract any additional workers to the field. Those extra workers don’t exist. In fact, these new laws will further reduce California’s farm production and cause people their jobs.

What legislators should have focused on was helping solve our labor shortage. Whether its governors taking immigration reform into their own hands or the federal government fixing our broken immigration system, helping sustain our workforce should have been the priority.  

I spoke about this very topic this summer during the Forbes AgTech Summit. My good friends, Harold McClarty of HMC Farms and Sammy Duda of Duda Farm Fresh Foods, and I shared our thoughts with the audience about what type of labor-saving technologies need to be developed to assist with production. There’s technologies being created to help with optimization and mechanization, but if ag is to survive with a declining workforce we need more. More R&D and more innovative technology.