Finding enough workers to harvest their crops never is a sure thing for growers in Baja California or in California, but in midsummer, most said they had not experienced labor shortages so far this season.
As of mid-August, San Diego-based Pinos Produce Inc., which grows tomatoes in Baja California, hadn’t had a problem finding enough workers to harvest the crop, said sales manager Danny Uribe.
That could change by October, however, when harvesting picks up in mainland Mexico.
For now, though, the company has plenty of workers.
While finding enough workers is not a problem at this time for San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce, which grows tomatoes in Mexico, the company doesn’t intend to let its guard down, said John King, vice president of sales.
“It’s something we need to be aware of,” he said.
West Coast Tomato Growers in Oceanside, Calif., north of San Diego, has participated in the H-2A guest worker program for many years, said Dick Keim, marketing coordinator.
“We hire as many locals as are available, and we supplement it with H-2A people from Mexico,” he said.
“We were one of the first growers to participate in the program,” he added. “It’s worked out very well all the way around.”
The company is fortunate to have the program in place.
“San Diego County seems to have less and less (labor) available all the time,” Keim said.
Finding an adequate workforce has become a “perennial problem,” said Tom Deardorff, president of Deardorff Family Farms, Oxnard, Calif.
“We’re constantly running at less-than-desired capacity as far as labor,” he said.
The company has had to “trim a little bit here and there” on its planting to make sure there is enough labor available to plant, maintain and harvest the crop, he said.
At DiMare Co. in Newman, Calif., field operations manager Jeff Dolan said the labor situation was a bit tight early in the season but looked good in mid-August, when the company was back up to full strength. However, Dolan was concerned about the coming weeks, as grape harvesting picks up in the area.
“We always are anticipating that there’s potential for a shortage of labor, but we do our best to make sure that we have a great working environment for everybody, make sure everybody gets paid on time and paid a good wage and we hope it will all work out,” he said.
Growers cite the U.S. immigration policy — or lack of one — as a factor in the ever-changing labor scene.
The U.S. immigration situation is a mess, Keim said.
“I don’t think that anybody knows what the ultimate answer is, but certainly, something needs to be done.”
“It’s a very complex issue, and I think the politicians are scared to death to address it,” Keim said. “It’s not going to get better, it’s going to get worse.”
“There is no political will to do any type of reform,” Deardorff said.
The U.S. needs to address the illegal immigration issue and establish programs so that workers can enter the U.S. from Mexico and “come here and do the work U.S. people will not do,” Dolan said.
“It’s ridiculous that we don’t have a comprehensive policy in the U.S.,” he said. “It’s completely political at this point.”