California farmers face labor shortages

By California Farm Bureau

Nearly two-thirds of farmers who responded to a survey by the California Farm Bureau Federation said they experienced challenges finding enough employees to help tend and harvest crops in 2012. Farm Bureau today released the results of the online survey, which included responses from nearly 800 of its members about their experience during the harvest season.

“Throughout the year and throughout the state, we heard personal accounts from farmers who struggled to find enough people to work on their farms. We wanted to find out more about the extent of the problem,” California Farm Bureau President Paul Wenger said. “Employee shortages were widespread among farmers who responded to the survey, and they reacted by taking a number of steps to cope with the problem.”

The voluntary survey brought responses from farm employers across the state who grow a variety of crops, including both labor-intensive crops and those that do not require significant employee inputs. Questions included whether or not farmers had seen a shortage of on-farm employees and if so, what sorts of actions they had taken as a result.

Survey highlights included:

  • Sixty-one percent of total respondents said they experienced worker shortages of varying degrees.
  • Among responding farmers who grow labor-intensive crops—tree fruits, vegetables, table grapes, raisins and berries—71 percent reported employee shortages.
  • To deal with workforce shortages, farmers offered higher wages, delayed pruning and harvesting, used mechanization if possible, or did not harvest some of their crop.
  • Although widespread crop losses did not occur in 2012, 19 percent of farmers responding to the survey reported planting fewer acres, not harvesting a portion of their crop or giving up leased land because of a lack of available harvest help.

“Through this survey, California farmers have given us a glimpse into what may happen if current trends continue,” Wenger said. “Without the creation of a secure, effective program that allows people from foreign countries to work legally in the United States to harvest crops, we could see continuing or worsening problems, especially for small or midsized farms.”

The Farm Bureau report notes that farmers have been forthright about the fact that they rely on a largely immigrant workforce, and that efforts to hire U.S.-born employees on farms have been mostly unsuccessful, even during the deepest part of the recent recession. Wenger said agricultural organizations have been among the leading proponents for reform of immigration law that would allow foreign residents with secure identification to continue to work in agriculture or to enter the U.S. legally for that purpose.

The report, titled “Walking the Tightrope: California Farmers Struggle with Employee Shortages,” is available on the CFBF website at

The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of more than 74,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of more than 6.2 million Farm Bureau members.


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