Robert Grether (from left), avocado grower and California Avocado Commission board member; Ken Melban, commission vice president of industry affairs; Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue; John Lamb, commission chairman; Tom Bellamore, commission president; and avocado grower Al Stehly. ( Courtesy California Avocado Commission )

Agriculture Sonny Perdue toured an avocado grove in Escondido, Calif., discussing water and labor issues with growers and industry members.

Grower Al Stehly led the July 15 tour of Rancho Guejito Avocado Farm, and California Avocado Commission staff and members discussed efforts to modernize avocado production, with high-density plantings, managed tree height and water efficiency techniques.

“We had a very productive meeting with the secretary, who seemed very interested in helping with labor, water and other issues facing California growers,” John Lamb, California Avocado Commission chairman, said in a news release.

Limited labor availability is worsening, with an aging workforce and threats of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids, commission president Tom Bellamore said.

“California avocado harvest crews are well-compensated, averaging $18 per hour or greater piece rate, but with agriculture labor availability approaching crisis levels the industry needs a flexible guest worker program that allows the existing workforce to remain and one that provides access to new workers,” Bellamore said in the release.

The group also discussed trade issues, including gaining access to China.

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