Posts Tagged: labor
A major expense in producing winegrapes is labor. Two UC Cooperative Extension experts appeared on the Jefferson Exchange radio program to explain how mechanization of pruning, leaf removal and shoot thinning, combined with mechanized harvesting widely implemented decades ago, will dramatically reduce the need for labor in California winegrape production.
"The minimum wage is going to increase to $15 per hour in 2022," said George Zhuang, viticulture advisor with UCCE Fresno County. Besides, it is getting more challenging for growers to find enough workers due to labor shortages and higher wages in other fields, such as construction.
The machinery for mechanized vineyards requires an investment of about $100,000, said Kaan Kurtural, UCCE viticulture specialist. At that cost, growers begin to break even after a year.
The biggest obstacle to mechanization is the way winegrape vineyards have traditionally been trellised. The cross arms get in the way of machines as they go through the vineyards. In a recent research project by Zhuang and Kurtural, the scientists converted a traditional system to single high wire and managed it with mechanical equipment.
"It was more profitable ... with the same, if not better, quality and value at the farm gate," Kurtural said. "The writing is on the wall for growers to adapt to this as quickly as possible."
Host Geoffrey Riley asked whether the labor savings will result in cheaper wine. Kurtural laughed.
"No," he said. "Wine prices are set by market demand. I don't think wine is an expensive beverage."
No matter what happens with immigration reform, the United States will likely suffer a shortage of farm labor in coming decades, reported the Washington Post. The story was based on a study titled "The End of Farm Labor Abundance" by Edward Taylor, professor in the Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics at UC Davis, UC graduate student Diane Charlton and Antonio Yúnez-Naude, professor in the Center for Economic Studies at El Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City.
“It’s a simple story,” Taylor said. ”By the mid-twentieth century, Americans stopped doing farm work. And we were only able to avoid a farm-labor crisis by bringing in workers from a nearby country that was at an earlier stage of development. Now that era is coming to an end.”
Since it is unlikely that another labor pool can be found, and also unlikely that American demand for fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts will decline, farmers could turn in greater numbers to mechanical options, such as shake-and-catch harvesting machines, the study said.
Mechanical harvesting of cling peaches.
"(Border crossing) is more dangerous because of the drug cartels, our government is doing a better job of enforcing the borders and the Mexican economy is doing better," said Jim Lincoln, a vintner and former president of the Napa County Farm Bureau.
Phil Martin, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis, paints a different picture. He estimates the yearly number of farm laborers has remained steady in the last decade at around 800,000 people after it had expanded in the 1990s.
Martin is skeptical of perennial farmworker shortage warnings, finding no signs of diminished crops or fewer workers in a 2007 report, but five years later he says the farming community has hit "a period of uncertainty."
Despite the recession, and high levels of unemployment, American workers by and large do not want to labor on California farms, according to an Associated Press analysis.
Most Americans simply don't apply to harvest fruits and vegetables and the few Americans who do usually don't stay in the fields, wrote reporter Garance Burke.
The majority of farmers rely on illegal labor to harvest their crops, but they can also use the H-2A Guest Worker Program, which allows farmers to recruit foreign workers as long as they request the workers months in advance of the harvest season and can show that no Americans want the job.
However, Philip Martin, a UC Davis professor of agricultural and resource economics said that, said few farmers participate in the H-2A program.
"Recruitment of U.S. workers in this program doesn't work well primarily because employers have already identified who they want to bring in from abroad," the story quoted Martin. "I don't think a lot of U.S. workers are going out there looking for a seasonal job paying the minimum wage or a dollar more."
Potato harvest on a California farm.
The Fresno Bee ran a feature story and editorialized in support of a UC Davis farmworker health study in the San Joaquin Valley called MICASA. MICASA is the acronym for "Mexican Immigration to California: Agricultural Safety and Acculturation," and, cleverly, also means "my house" in Spanish.
The project studies on-the-job hazards and health risks for farmworkers, their muscular and skeletal problems and their adjustment to American culture, according to the story. The researchers interviewed about 875 people -- 422 farmworker families and about 40 male farm laborers -- and conducted community forums on topics such as diabetes, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence and breast cancer.
"A large, well-funded study like ours will be read by those who have the power to make changes -- politicians, policy-makers, health professionals and so forth," the story quoted Maria Stoecklin-Marois, a UC Davis staff research associate.
In the paper's opinion section, the editors said they welcome UC Davis' efforts "to help strengthen this neglected segment of our work force, and look forward to using the forthcoming data to enhance life in the Valley."