Labor should be adequate in the desert

04/23/2012 12:08:00 PM
Tom Burfield

Finding adequate labor to plant, prune and pick produce can be a challenge, but desert growers have been lucky lately in that availability of good workers has been good.

“We’ve been very fortunate, at least for the last several years,” said John Burton, general manager of sales and cooler for Peter Rabbit Farms, Coachella, Calif.

Like most growers, the company relies largely on labor contractors to secure its workforce.

“They’ve been able to supply the workforce in our area very comfortably without any hiccups or any issues,” Burtons said. “We hope that continues.”

It helps, he said, that the industry pays a fair wage that attracts quality laborers.

Los Angeles-based Stevco Inc. had a good year as far as securing workers goes last year, said president Dave Clyde.

“We weren’t totally behind the eight ball,” he said.

With competition from several commodities and numerous growers in the desert, however, you can’t take and adequate workforce for granted.

“Every year is a new year,” Clyde said, “but I think we should have a fairly decent labor force down here.”

However, he added that things could get tight during the peak of the season.

“Labor continues to be an issue” for Five Crowns Marketing, Brawley, Calif., said

Daren Van Dyke, director of sales and marketing.

The company relies on its labor contractor to make sure paperwork is completed properly and all the processes are followed.

“You have to do all of your due diligence,” he said.

Five Crowns has used the same contractor for 20 years, and many of the same crews come back year after year.

“We try to treat our laborers very well and pay them competitively,” Van Dyke said.

“We have a pretty loyal labor following.”

Labor always is on grower’s minds, said Robert Bianco, co-owner of Anthony Vineyards, Coachella.

“Because the economy soured a little bit, there’s probably more labor around, but it’s going to change again,” he said.

The government needs to launch some kind of guest worker program for laborers who come from Mexico, Bianco said.

“They need to have some way of letting these people work legally.”

Mike Aiton, director of marketing for Coachella-based Prime Time International, does not expect any labor issues this season, “but it’s still early,” he said in early April.

Because the housing boom in the desert has eroded and the hospitality industry does not employ as many people during the hot summer months as it does during the winter, there should be an ample supply of labor, he said.

Arturo Huereque, owner of Boss 4 Packing LLC, Heber, Calif., a labor contractor who provides workers for a number of California growers, said his company has an advantage over some of his competitors because he has a strong base of employees who return year after year.

That’s because he provides jobs not only in the desert growing areas but in the central and northern parts of the state, including Bakersfield, Mendota and Huron, enabling some workers to remain employed 10 months of the year picking fruit in spring and summer and vegetables in fall and winter.

The immigration crackdown has affected the industry as a whole, he said, but he has not been hurt too badly because he uses mostly local people from the Imperial Valley and Yuma, Ariz., and not many from Mexicali in Baja California.



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