Farm labor shortages in California

From a 2017 member survey by the California Farm Bureau Federation:

Fifty-five percent of survey respondents said they were experiencing employee shortages to various degrees. A majority of farmers who reported shortages said they were unable to recruit up to 50 percent of their seasonal workforce needs, with 15% unable to recruit more than 50% of employees. Of the farmers who reported shortages, the majority employ 15 or fewer people on a permanent basis and hire 50 employees or fewer during peak season.

When asked what actions they have taken in response to employee shortages, one third of respondents said they used mechanization if available; another 29% attempted or investigated mechanization. One-third of respondents elected not to engage in labor-intensive cultivation activities such as pruning and grapevine canopy management. About 9.5% planted fewer acres and 9% did not harvest some of their crop. The most frequent action, taken by 49% of respondents, was to offer increased wages, benefits and additional incentives to prevent employees accepting work with other growers or leaving agriculture altogether.

Fewer than 3% of those responding use the existing H-2A agricultural immigration program. Farmers in California have for many years said they find the H-2A program inadequate to meet their employment needs, given the program’s high cost, bureaucratic difficulties and the diversity of seasons, workforce needs and timing of those needs, which often conflict and overlap. In spite of increases in the number of people being employed in California through the H-2A program, it still represents a small fraction of the overall agricultural labor force in the state.

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