US farms struggle through red tape to recruit more workers

Global Business

US farms struggle through red tape to recruit more workers

On the other side of the border in the U.S farms are struggling with the bureaucratic procedures and policies of getting labor out into their fields.

CGTN’s Mark Niu reports.

Manny Rico recruits Mexican fruit pickers to work here in Ventura County in Southern California.

“And seems to be a trend that the younger kids from Mexico don’t want to do this type of work either,” Rico said.

Limoneira company runs citrus farms that depend on that labor. In the past two years in Ventura county alone, about 100,000 boxes of their fruit have gone bad before they could pick it — a loss of between $2 to $4 million.

“It has been a race against time because we haven’t had the ability to import temporary workers. Now we have been able due to some relaxation in the state of California, to utilize H2A – temporary guest worker program, but we’ve just started on that, and it’s very complex very burdensome,” Alex Teague, COO of Limoneira Company said.

From 2012 to 2016, the number of H2A agricultural temporary visas granted nearly doubled – to more than 165,000.

There’s no cap which has led a bi-partisan group of U.S. senators to push for limits out of fears that it’s depressing U.S. wages for farm workers.

“These are politicians who don’t know which end is up. I’m bringing in strawberry workers under H2A to fill the gap of $20 an hour strawberry picker jobs. My customers cannot get enough strawberry pickers at $20 an hour to pick strawberries. If for some reason, someone decided to do away with the H2A program, we would devastate American agriculture, “Steve Scaroni, Founder & CEO of Fresh Harvest said.

Last year, Scaroni’s company employed more than 6,000 agricultural workers — around 75 percent of them under the H2a program. Forty-year-old Francisco Antonio Antonio from Mexico has been coming to Monterey County, California under the H2A for a decade. He’s married with five children and spends eight months a year here, starting work at two in the morning.

“Before, I didn’t have a job and with God’s blessings, I find myself here working with them. You have to care for your job-more than anything,” Francisco Antonio Antonio, H2A Migrant Worker said.

But the H2A is far from perfect. Scaroni said he has to work with six government agencies to approve applications. Furthermore, it’s hard to get permits to build housing for the workers, which is required under the H2A. And, stereotypes that lump these workers in with criminals, which he says is completely false, makes matters even worse.

Joe Gunter, the mayor of Salinas – the largest farming community in Monterey County — says officials just approved building a 75-unit structure to house 300 workers, but that it’s only a start.

“I know that we have a shortage of workers here, I know that good food that could feed families is being plowed under. We need to make it so people want to come here and work they can do it. There should be a way to make their status while they are here workable, versus them being snuck in by illegal people, treating them poorly, ripping them off,” Joe Gunter, Mayor of Salinas said.

“The American public needs to decide do you want your fresh fruits and vegetables harvested by migrants in America or do you want your fresh fruits and vegetables harvested by migrants in a 3rd world economy It’s a decision the American public and our government needs to decide and needs to decide pretty quick,” Scaroni said.

Scaroni is pushing for common sense reforms to make the H2A system more efficient since time is of the essence for an industry where produce cannot afford to be picked late.