( File photo )

Just as immigration reform continues to elude lawmakers in Washington, D.C., a stable workforce continues to elude grower-shippers in California’s Salinas Valley.

“Labor is a giant problem all the time,” said Gib Papazian, president of Lucky Strike Farms, Burlingame, Calif.

Labor contractors are “very, very, very concerned” as the federal government threatens to crack down on illegal workers, he said.

There simply aren’t enough agriculture workers in California, said Bob Roach, Monterey County’s assistant agricultural commissioner. And it doesn’t look like a solution is in store anytime soon.

“It’s our biggest problem right now,” he said.

D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California in Salinas also had enough workers in early April, said John Scherpinski, director of sales. But he said it was too soon to tell whether enough people would be available to harvest the crop throughout the season.

Papazian estimated that 99% of the agriculture labor in the Salinas Valley consists of Hispanic workers, many of whom fear deportation.

The industry would be devastated if there were mass deportations, he said.

“If you lose that (labor), you’re dead,” he said.

Farmers, many of whom voted for President Donald Trump, “will squeal like pigs” if the federal government clamps down on their labor.

Salinas growers need people to work in agriculture, Roach said.

But even with higher minimum wages mandated over the next few years, it’s difficult to attract U.S.-born workers to take agriculture jobs, which are labor intensive and require a high degree of skill, he said.

Papazian agreed.

“I just don’t see a bunch of people who live in suburbs or major metropolitan areas migrating out to pick crops, irrespective of how much money they pay,” he said.

“Culturally, it doesn’t seem to happen in America.”

Securing enough workers has been a challenge for several years, Scherpinski said.

“Overall, we are down over the course of three or four years in harvest capacity due to crew size,” he said.

Last year was an exception for D’Arrigo Co., though.

“We saw a bit of stability last year” compared to the previous two years, Scherpinski said.

“We hope that momentum carries over to this year.”

Papazian said lawmakers have no choice — they must pass immigration reform.

“They’re going to have to come up with some kind of sane program that works,” he said.

Farmers, many of whom voted for President Donald Trump, “will squeal like pigs” if the federal government clamps down on their labor, Papazian said.

Documenting immigrant workers and paying them a fair wage will help boost all levels of the economy as they spend money and pay taxes, he said.

 
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