“It’s definitely affecting everyone,” Lundberg said of the vegetable industry’s high harvester turnover rates.
But while berry harvesting may pay better in the short term, Babé Farms stresses to its employees the job security and benefits of working for a year-round producer.
Meanwhile, on the political front, Lundberg is optimistic Washington D.C. will act soon to help growers and their employees.
“They really seem to be on the cusp of something on temporary immigration, which is of absolute necessity.”
Santa Maria-based Gold Coast Packing Inc. has sufficient labor in its plant, where year-round employment is more common, but the company’s fields are a different matter, said Brent Scattini, vice president of sales.
“We’re definitely feeling the crunch labor-wise,” he said. “There are some things we’d like to be able to do in the field that we’re unable to do.”
The good news about immigration reform is that agriculture likely will be the first beneficiary, Scattini said.
But when it will happen is anyone’s guess.
“We need a guest worker program in place very quickly, and ag is where you’ll see it first,” he said. “How quickly it will happen, I don’t know.”
Labor, as always, is a hot-button topic this season, said Don Klusendorf, director of sales and marketing for Santa Maria-based Bonipak Produce Inc.
“Labor will continue to be a challenge for all growers in and outside of Santa Maria,” Klusendorf said. “With the changes in health care and the marketplace, each grower will face increased costs in the competitive environment to hire a qualified workforce.”
It takes a concerted effort on behalf of growers, he said, to guarantee there’s good help on a regular basis.
“We do our best to keep our crews together throughout the entire year and maintain consistency.”