We need productive farms in California to provide local food, help the economy in one of the poorest regions in the country, and as a buffer against continued sprawl. So it’s both environmentally and politically significant that the president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, Paul Wenger, penned an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle complaining about labor shortages:
On my farm near Modesto, where I grow almonds and walnuts, I’ve had trouble hiring enough people to tend and harvest my crops. And I’m far from alone: Around California, farmers and ranchers report chronic problems in finding and hiring qualified and willing people to work in agriculture.
The California Farm Bureau Federation — a membership association representing farmers and ranchers — conducted an informal survey of our members. It showed more than half of responding farmers experienced employee shortages during the past year. The figure was higher among farmers who employ people on a seasonal basis — 69 percent of those farmers reported shortages.
Wenger goes on to describe how farmers have offered higher wages, benefits and more year-round jobs. But because farmers depend on an immigrant workforce, these businesses have been hit hard by the federal crackdown on immigration, now intensified under Trump, as well as increasing living standards and lower birthrates in Mexico.
Yet many in this industry, which is generally very Republican, backed Trump in the last election. And their preferred candidate’s policies and rhetoric now appear to be hurting their business:
We’ve been asked many times if the Trump administration’s immigration policies contribute to the shortages. We’re not exactly sure at this point. Our survey results found that a number of farmers reported their employees are increasingly concerned about immigration enforcement and may be more reluctant to move from job to job. Although we’re not aware of any significant increase in enforcement activity on California farms, the atmosphere has certainly changed.
Successful farms are important to California’s way of life and to guard against sprawl. If continued economic pressure on them motivates more to sell out to developers and stop growing our food, we’ll all be worse off for it.
And for more on low-carbon agriculture and policies to encourage it, check out our Berkeley/UCLA Law report Room to Grow: