Farmers Struggle With Sudden Farmworker Labor Shortage

Farmers report 40% decrease in workcrews

There are 800,000 fieldworkers in California, but that number is quickly dropping.

Perfectly good crops are being left unpicked as farmers struggle with a sudden shortage of fieldworkers.

"We'd normally have a crew of 25, but we've got a crew of 12," said Murray Family Farms owner Steve Murray.

Farmers like Murray first noticed the shortage in April as labor contractors reported a drop of nearly 40 percent in workcrews.

"It's a serious event. It hit us hard during our cherry harvest," said Murray.

Ben McFarland of the Kern County Farm Bureau said fewer fieldworkers are crossing the border to work because drug cartels are pressuring them to smuggle drugs.

"So a lot of people feel its not worth the risk for them to try and do that," said McFarland.

Also an improving economy in Mexico and an aging population are prompting people to stay there.

Another reason is the nation's guest worker program, known as H2A.

"There's just too much red tape. Too many things to jump through and it's not worth it to pursue an H2A visa program," said McFarland.

Fewer workers means fewer produce.

"This year there was fruit that did not get picked because once it gets past its peak, you can't pick it. We ended up leaving fruit in our trees that we normally would not have done," said Murray.

Farmers expect the shortage to put a dent in Kern County's $5 billion farming industry.

"We're not going to know until the end of this year what kind of impact it's going to have," said McFarland.

But consumers may feel the impact much sooner.

"I think they're going to feel the pinch for a lot of reasons, the drought in the midwest, higher energy costs and lack of labor. Certainly we'll see shorter supplies and higher prices," said Murray.

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