We recruit the proper number of pickers so harvest doesn’t progress too fast or too slow. A slow down due to lack of productivity, shortage of required workers, or delay in arrival of workers has a domino effect that leads to overripe fruit or fruit on the ground for the rest of the season. The value of the crop can be significantly reduced if time constraints governed by weather are not met. The bottom line is that for the apple industry and other industries ranging from strawberries to vegetables to dairy to survive, in Virginia and nationwide, we need a legal, reliable, stable and skilled workforce.
Farms will convert to low-value grain crops or fail altogether. We will export jobs, we will import food. As this happens, it will likely happen just slowly enough that it won’t receive the same attention as an automotive plant moving to Mexico or a factory going to China, but the impact will be the same – loss of jobs, loss of payroll and taxes, loss of dollars spent in our communities on equipment, supplies, and services.
This hearing in part considers whether America needs foreign-born farm workers. The facts speak for themselves. The UFW’s “Take Our Jobs” campaign is only the latest effort to try to recruit and place Americans into farm jobs. The results so far are no surprise. In the late 1990’s, after Congress passed welfare reform, Senator Dianne Feinstein insisted on establishment of a program to try to place the unemployed into farm jobs in California’s Central Valley.
State and county workforce agencies and grower associations worked together to map out when and where the labor was needed. Much like today, unemployment was double-digit regionally, and over 20% in some communities. Yet, fewer than five workers were successfully placed. In 2006, the Washington State apple industry acted to avert a looming harvest worker shortage. Again, state and county agencies and grower groups set up an advertising, recruitment, and training program. Roughly 1700 workers were sought. About 40 were successfully placed.
The program was documented in a 2007 letter sent by Washington State agriculture director Valoria Loveland to the Senate Judiciary Committee. I am not suggesting that Americans are lazy. I am suggesting that our U.S.-born population has changed dramatically over the years. We are growing older, we are better educated, we have chosen to live in cities and suburbs. People think our food comes from Kroger or Safeway. Many farm kids themselves pursue a lifestyle off the farm. We have lost much of our culture of agriculture. It isn’t about hourly wages. Our harvest workers earn an average of $93 for a 9 hour day.