Trouble on the US farm: crops rot, growers seek workers

Here's a mess with no easy fix: American crops going unpicked -- it's backbreaking work Americans won't touch -- and poor migrants in need of work shying from it for fear of being abused.

Creating a program for temporary farm workers from Mexico and other countries to work the land, sow seeds or reap harvests is one of the touchiest aspects of the immigration reform that Congress is working on.

Some 61 percent of growers in California report shortages of laborers, especially in labor intensive crops like grapes and vegetables, said Rayne Pegg of the California Farm Bureau Federation.

So some crops are left to rot.

In the peak of the harvest season, California needs some 400,000 farmhands, and usually 70 percent of them are undocumented immigrants, Pegg said.

At the national level, half of the million workers that put fruit and vegetables on the tables of American families lack work papers, says FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

"We do rely on a foreign workforce. We really have an issue in terms of attracting domestic workers. They typically don't want to work in agriculture. It's out in the elements, it can be a hard job," said Pegg.

She added: "Our concern is, what will happen over the long term if we continue to see this labor supply shortage and there's nothing done on immigration reform. Where will our labor supply come from?"

Wendy Moore, who grows wine grapes in Lodi, northeast of San Francisco, said a shortage of workers meant a delayed harvest and thus grapes with a higher sugar content, which is not good for wineries.

So what's the problem? Workers are scarce because deportations are on the rise and laws in some states are tough on undocumented foreigners. Thus, immigrants are wary of moving around like they used to, in search of seasonal farm work.

Secondly, fewer Mexicans are coming across because of tighter security at the border, said Pegg.

What is more, as the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States improve their standard of living, crouching down for hours on end to pick lettuce or strawberries under a punishing sun is no longer a must for them in order to get by.

For all these reasons, American growers want a visa program that will allow foreigners to come in and work the land, then go back home, Pegg said.

A similar plan does exist. But it is so expensive and so thick with red tape that growers prefer to cut corners and opt to contract undocumented workers.

Transferring this visa into an efficient program seems to be the ideal solution for growers and for ensuring food supplies in the US.

But the devil is in the details.

Mexican laborers at the California Mushroom Farm, for instance, fear that with a plan like that, new arrivals will cause them to lose benefits they have earned over the years, such as health insurance and paid vacations.

In Oxnard, 100 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of Los Angeles, Mexican worker Reinaldo Arevalo, 61 and with bushy mustach, said a program for temporary workers would not help people like him at all.

Arevalo and fellow Mexican co-worker Alfredo Zamora had just arrived at the offices of the United Farm Workers union, where they are members, from the mushroom farm.

Along the highway are vast fields of strawberries and raspberries. All one can see of the pickers are their bent-over backs.

"The people who are here do not demand things, because they want to work," Arevalo said, referring to undocumented immigrants. "And the people that come from outside in the future are not going to demand things either, because they want to work. So who is going to suffer? We are, the stable workers."

"The one coming in is not going to fight for what we have," added Zamora, who is 53.

They say the solution is to legalize the undocumented workers who are already in the country working, often earning less than than the minimum wage of eight dollars an hour and exposed to abuse and sexual harassment because of their legal status.

In 1942 the federal government implemented a program that until 1964 filled American farm fields with tens of thousands of Mexicans, who were totally at the mercy of foremen.

"With growers in charge, guestworkers' model contracts often proved meaningless because employers had the power to repatriate workers who tried to enforce them. Workers who complained, went on strike, or sought a lawyer could be deported and replaced," wrote Cindy Hahamovitch, author of a book entitled "No Man's Land", in a piece in the Miami Herald.

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Philippine economic growth slows to three-year low
    Philippine economic growth slows to three-year low

    Philippine economic growth in the first quarter slowed to a three-year low of 5.2 percent, well below forecasts, due to lethargic government spending and weak exports, officials said Thursday. "While growth in the private sector remains robust, the slower than programmed pace of public spending, particularly the decline in public construction, has slowed down the overall growth of the economy," Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan told reporters. "Exports were the other source of the …

  • EM ASIA FX-Won near 2-month low on plunging yen, peso pares gains as growth weakens

    * S.Korea intervention spotted, won hits 7-year high vs yen * Philippine peso briefly weaker after Q1 growth disappoints (Adds text, updates prices) By Jongwoo Cheon SEOUL, May 28 (Reuters) - South Korea's ... …

  • Britain's tied visa rules fuel abuse of live-in maids, nannies

    By Katie Nguyen LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When Susi, a single mother from the Philippines, left for a job in Qatar, she convinced herself it was a sacrifice worth making for her children at home. For more than a year, Susi's sacrifice involved waking before dawn and working past midnight, cooking, cleaning and looking after a Qatari family. Conditions deteriorated when Susi was brought to Britain by her boss. …

  • SE Asia Stocks - Philippines at four-month low after Q1 GDP miss

    BANGKOK, May 28 (Reuters) - Philippine shares hit a more than four-month low on Thursday after economic growth in the first quarter was slower than expected, while Thai stocks retreated after disappointing ... …

  • Philippine economic growth slows to 5.2 percent in 1Q

    Sluggish government spending slowed Philippine economic growth in the first quarter of this year, officials said Thursday. The country's gross domestic product grew by 5.2 percent in the first quarter, ... …

  • PSE to sell Makati and Ortigas offices
    PSE to sell Makati and Ortigas offices

    Set to move to a unified headquarters in Bonifacio Global City in 2016, the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) has issued plans to sell their offices in Makati and Ortigas. PSE President Hans Sicat issued that PSE means to sell the offices, but that they may also opt to rent them out instead. …

  • ‘Inland areas could be exposed to tsunami-like waves’
    ‘Inland areas could be exposed to tsunami-like waves’

    While strong earthquakes cause tsunamis in coastal areas, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) warned that inland areas could also be exposed to tsunami-like waves, or seiche, if located near or around bodies of water. In a recent earthquake awareness seminar in Muntinlupa, Phivolcs supervising science research specialist Joan Salcedo explained that a seiche is a large wave similar to a tsunami, triggered by strong ground shaking from an earthquake or volcanic …

  • China gives ‘gentle reminder’ to Phl, warns small nations
    China gives ‘gentle reminder’ to Phl, warns small nations

    China gave the Philippines a “gentle reminder” last Tuesday that Beijing will not bully small countries but warned these nations not to make trouble willfully and endlessly. “Here is a gentle reminder to the Philippines: China will not bully small countries, meanwhile, small countries shall not make trouble willfully and endlessly. The Chinese Foreign Ministry also said that China would continue to build other civilian facilities on relevant maritime features in the disputed Spratly Islands …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options