A Stable Workforce

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A Stable Workforce

By Steve Dutton, President

Published May 1, 2017

On the 26th of April, Kim Vail and I along with Karissa Kruse, Supervisors Gore and Hopkins and other Sonoma County leaders joined Herman Hernandez of Los Cien Sonoma County Latino Leaders for a bus trip to the Consulate General of Mexico in San Francisco. We met Consul General of San Francisco Gemi José González López, and he personally toured us around the consulate and told us about the services they provide their citizens in Northern California. One of the purposes of this trip was to form a partnership between Sonoma County and Consul González López to work together in defense of deportation.

This trip along with an article in the LA Times on March 19th titled “Home Grown Labor in Short Supply” made me think about a big issue for agriculture: labor and immigration reform. What do California and Sonoma County farmers have to do to secure a stable labor force? According to the LA Times, wages for crop production in California increased 13% from 2010 to 2015, twice as fast as average pay in the state.

In Sonoma County, many growers pay $3 to $5 above minimum wage giving our employees a chance to make $120 to $150 per day. This is usually more than they would make in a week doing a similar job in their home country.

But these high rates of pay and other perks do not tempt native born Americans to come to the fields to work. Nine in 10 agriculture workers in California are foreign born and more than half are here illegally according to a federal survey.

Without labor from Mexico, California ag wouldn’t exist.

That makes our trip to Mexico’s consulate important. Why would we want to possibly deport our labor force? Without this labor there wouldn’t be any fruit or vegetables in the produce section of your supermarket grown in the U.S. Why, as farmers, are we the only ones that see this? The U.S. needs some kind of immigration reform so workers can come here legally without the fear of deportation.

Labor is important to the ag industry and to food safety in the United States.

On April 25th, President Trump signed an Executive Order promoting agriculture and rural prosperity in America. The order establishes an interagency task force having several purposes and functions some of which are:

  1. “ensure access to a reliable workforce and increase employment opportunities in agriculture-related and rural-focused businesses”
  2. “promote the preservation of family farms and other agribusiness operations as they are passed from one generation to the next”
  3. “encourage the production, export, and use of domestically produced agricultural products”

If we really want two and three to be a reality, then we have to make number one a priority. Let’s hope that this task force and President Trump can recognize this and make it happen.

We need a stable and reliable workforce for agriculture in the U.S. to stay viable. With more than 50% of our labor force here illegally, immigration reform isn’t something we should just talk about, it’s a pressing issue that needs action. Farm Bureau is at the table and working on a new immigration reform bill, and at the local level, we hope that our new partnership with the Mexican consul general will help farm laborers facing the possible threat of deportation.

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the author and Sonoma County Farm Bureau when reprinting this item.