- Author: Jeffrey P Mitchell
August 16, 2020
Announcing the webinar, Healthy Soils for Healthy Profits - How do we get to $2.50/lb cotton in the SJV? slated for September 17, 2020 from 9:00 AM to Noon. Registration is now open at: https://ucanr.edu/sjvcottonwebinar
A short introductory video including interviews with presentingSJV farmers is available at
Sign up now!
- Author: civileats.com by Muna Danish, Farming, Food and Farm Labor
Source: Published originally on civileats.com, More Latinx Farmers Own Their Land. Could They Make the Food System More Sustainable? by Muna Danish, Farming, Food and Farm Labor, April 15th, 2019.
Moving from farmworker to farm owner has long been a challenge for Latinx farmers. But with support, more are making the leap, increasing the number of diverse, small-scale operations.
It wasn't until 2009, when Javier Zamora was in his 40s and living in California, that he started to consider farming as a career. After moving to the U.S. from Mexico in 1985 and working in the restaurant industry in Southern California, Zamora attended Cabrillo Community College in Santa Cruz, where he studied agriculture, reconnected with his farming roots—and realized he had a passion for growing organic food.
At first, Zamora worked for others, but the pay was low, and he had a family. “I needed to be financially stable, so making $12 an hour was not going to cut it,” he recalls. In 2012, he struck out on his own.
In just a few years, Zamora made a name for himself by establishing a business, JSM Organics, and growing it from one-and-a-half acres to more than 100. He sells his vegetables, flowers, and berries to retail outlets as well as farmers' markets all over the Bay Area—and was recently recognized with the 2018 Rising Star Award from the Organic Trade Association.
Zamora's story is exceptional, however; most Latinx farmers still have a long way to go to achieve this level of success. While Latinx people make up about 83 percent of field laborers in the U.S., they own only about 3 percent of the farms.
The low number of Latinx farm owners is “misrepresentative of who's farming now and who's got the talent and desire to farm,” says Chris Brown, Development Director at the Agriculture and Land-based Training Association (ALBA), a nonprofit in Salinas that incubates mostly Latinx-run farm operations.
Brown points to the fact that the official numbers of new and beginning farmers have not been keeping up with the number of those who are retiring in the U.S., adding that skilled farmworkers are rarely considered in that equation. “You want new farmers, and you have droves of them already in the field,” he says.
There are a number of factors at play: Latinx farmworkers face an array of challenges when they try to start their own farms, including language barriers, lack of knowledge about the market, and for the more than half who are undocumented, an inability to access government resources such as subsidies and grants from the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
While Latinx farm ownership grew at the beginning of this century, it has since plateaued. According to the USDA's 2012 Census of Agriculture, the proportion of Hispanic farm owners increased by 21 percent between 2007 and 2012, to 3 percent of all U.S. farm owners. This increase doubled that of other groups and ran counter to the overall decrease in farm ownership in the country.
The 2017 Census released last week, however, reveals that while the number of Hispanic farm producers increased from 90,344 to 112,451 between 2012 and 2017, the number of total producers also increased, meaning the proportion of Hispanic farm producers remained steady at 3 percent over the five-year period. (Important to note: the USDA changed the demographic data collected from farm operators to farm producers, defined as someone involved in making decisions for the farm, which could increase the number of people identifying.)
Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern, an assistant professor of food studies and agriculture researcher at Syracuse University, believes the census numbers likely do not fully represent the number of Latinx farmers. “Most farmers I've interviewed, who identify as first-generation Latino or Hispanic farmers, have not filled out [any USDA] census,” she says.
The Challenge of Moving from Worker to Owner
California's agricultural industry is especially dependent on immigrant labor, with nine in 10 agriculture workers coming from Mexico. Over 40 percent of the country's Mexican-born crop workers are in California, according to data from the National Agricultural Worker Survey.
California also employs the most agricultural workers compared to any other state, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the instability of farm work, coupled with a desire to have more autonomy and upward mobility, has caused Latinx farmworkers to look increasingly toward farm ownership.
And many of them are already primed for the job, coming from farming regions where practices such as planting diversified crops and growing food with little or no pesticides are common. Minkoff-Zern says many Latinx immigrant farmers seek to reproduce the farming they did in their home countries, which “resembles what we think of as a homestead: growing food for consumption, and basically living on the land.”
But in trying to establish their own operations, these farmers often find themselves up against daunting challenges. The increasing consolidation and mechanization of large farms in the U.S. has made accessing land and capital difficult, and small-scale farmers like Zamora have to find ways to stand out in order to survive. Many Latinx farmers choose to farm organically, Brown says, in part because the higher market value allows them to build their own businesses and have autonomy over their work. But, in California's competitive market, going organic isn't enough; farmers have to grow new and niche foods and get their products successfully to market. Farmers' markets in urban areas often have long wait-lists, and new vendors have to offer something that isn't already there.
In addition, many Latinx farmers want to remain small-scale, making it difficult for them to compete in an increasingly monocrop-focused, industrialized industry, says Minkoff-Zern. “Scaling up is tough because they have to change their way of production. Most first-generation farmers … are not necessarily interested in doing that,” she says.
Language access is another problem for primarily Spanish-speaking farmers, especially when it comes to USDA programs and loans. Lorette Picciano, executive director of The Rural Coalition, a Washington, D.C-based advocacy group that works with Latinx farmers all over the country says these farmers often see the USDA solely as a regulatory agency and not a source of resources and loans. Minkoff-Zern adds that “because Latino growers are culturally separated from the type of farmers working with the USDA, they don't know about those opportunities.”
For example, the USDA's Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program and the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program offer outreach, technical assistance, and loans to minority and beginning farmers. Those programs were recently combined in the 2018 Farm Bill and will receive up to $50 million in funding by 2023, as well as permanent baseline funding for the first time.
However, Minkoff-Zern says that in order for Latinx farmers to truly take advantage of those opportunities, the USDA needs to employ more bilingual staff and do intentional outreach to Latinx immigrant communities, where she says information often spreads by word of mouth rather than through online channels. Many Latinx farmers might also miss out on government loans and organic certification because they require extensive record-keeping that they may not be accustomed to completing due to language and education-related barriers.
When it comes to accessing markets for what they grow, Minkoff-Zern adds that a type of “veiled discrimination” can happen in farmers' markets and other alternative food spaces such as co-ops, where Latino farmers don't have the same social networks as white farmers.
In Javier Zamora's case, the support of local organizations such as ALBA and Farmlink made all the difference. He received his first loan of $10,000 from Farmlink after being turned away from banks due to bad credit. He also farmed his first piece of land through ALBA's incubator farm.
Supporting Minority Farmers
ALBA, which grew out of the work of the Rural Development Center founded in 1985, helps low-income, minority farmworkers become organic farm owners in rural Salinas. ALBA's primary program, Programa Educativo para Pequeños Agricultores (PEPA), or Farmer Education Program, is a year-long training that combines classroom instruction and field-based work.
After graduating, participants can apply to be part of the organic farm incubator, which rents them up to five acres of land at a subsidized rate and helps farmers launch and grow their businesses over four years.
Victor and Veronica Cortes have a small, two-and-a-half-acre farm just around the corner from ALBA. Victor participated in the ALBA program in 2013 and has been farming independently with his wife since then.
On a recent fall day at the farm, Veronica was in a shed packing up boxes of serrano peppers to send to their distributor. “The hardest part is selling the products,” she says. “The last four years we sent a lot of product to the garbage. We didn't sell it because the market is full.” This year they've fared better. They diversified their offerings and started growing niche products like gherkins and jicama.
Victor, who worked as a manager for the berry-growing giant Driscoll's for nearly a decade before launching the farm, is kneeling behind a single tall row of corn plants as he picks jicama roots. He says left Driscoll's because he didn't see any way to advance at the company. “For a worker like me, that was it. I am limited in English, in my education,” says Cortes.
Nationally, community-based programs that focus on providing technical assistance to Latinx farmers are few and far between. Latinx farmers in in Washington can work with Viva Farms, a nonprofit farm-business incubator that is similar to ALBA. The Farmworkers Association of Florida has also done trainings geared toward Latinx farmers, and FARMroots, a program of Greenmarket farmers markets in New York, provides technical assistance and mentorship to primarily immigrant farmers. Still, Picciano of the Rural Coalition says there is an “urgent need” for more investment in technical assistance to Latinx farmers.
Cortes says he is seeing more Hispanics becoming farm owners, but the most significant barrier is confidence. “When you come here from Mexico, you think you will be a laborer,” he says. In order to increase the number of Hispanic farm owners, he thinks immigrants need to learn that there are other options. “We can change our situation, we can be on the other side,” he says.
For that shift to happen, farmworkers need to be viewed as a priority in terms of farm ownership, “rather than just as workers,” says Minkoff-Zern. That could mean more economic incentives for farmers to sell their land and machinery to their workers, especially as the average age of primary farm operators is 59.4, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, and many are thinking about retirement.
Erin West, federal policy director of the National Young Farmers Coalition, says young farmers are already more diverse than the general farming population, but there needs to be more opportunities for those groups to access federal support. “If we want agriculture to be successful and want young farmers to be successful, that means including Latinx farmers and other socially disadvantaged producers,” she says.
Ultimately, both Minkoff-Zern and Picciano believe that more Latinx farmers could also mean stronger rural communities and a shift to a more sustainable food system, especially as Latinx farmers tend to opt for diverse, small-scale operations that sell direct to eaters. But Picciano adds that Latinx farmers also need to be thinking about succession. “We need to work with them on transition plans so they can also pass farms on to the next generation,” she says.
That next generation is something Zamora has just recently started to think about. While he shows no signs of slowing down, he says that his daughters, 22-year-old Cynthia and 23-year-old Selena have started working at the farm five days a week. “My hope is that once I turn a bit older, then they can carry on with it,” he says.
- Author: Julia Van Soelen Kim
- Editor: J. M.
- Author: The Washington Post by Tamar Haspel
Who picks your strawberries?
If you haven't delved into this question, you probably believe it's virtually all immigrants, many of them illegal, because Americans don't want to do those jobs and we don't have enough legal ways to get foreigners here to do them.
If you have delved into the question, you know that's absolutely true.
Estimates of the number of farmworkers employed in the United States vary. According to Robert Guenther, senior vice president for public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association, a produce industry trade group, it's about 1.5 million to 2 million. Of those, a large portion is illegal. Again, estimates vary, but Guenther puts it at 50 to 70 percent, a wide range. The Department of Labor, in its National Agricultural Workers Survey , puts it at 46 percent.
No matter which estimate you accept, it's a lot of people. And the Trump administration's aggressive enforcement of immigration laws and promise to build a wall to keep more people from crossing the border illegally threaten the viability of the on-farm workforce.
If we lose the workers who are here illegally, it's hard to see how they'll be replaced, because Americans are reluctant to take these jobs, particularly the ones harvesting crops. There's a lot of evidence for this, both anecdotal and statistical, including a particularly compelling case study done in North Carolina in 2011. That year, 489,000 people were unemployed statewide. The North Carolina Growers Association listed 6,500 available jobs. Just 268 of those 489,000 North Carolinians applied, and 245 were hired. On the first day of work, 163 showed up, and a grand total of seven finished the season. Of the mostly Mexican workers who took the rest of the jobs, 90 percent made it through to the end.
Lynn Jacquez, a D.C. lawyer specializing in immigration law, says, “There's sufficient evidence that over the last 30-plus years there's a dearth of U.S. workers that want to go into this field.” Whether the pun is intended, these jobs are acceptable only to people who have very few, very bad options.
The work is brutally hard. Ricardo Salvador, who is director of the food and environment program for the Union of Concerned Scientists, and whose family includes farmworkers, described a typical day to me. (I tried to talk with a farmworker directly, but the political environment has made many very reluctant to speak with the press.)
Days often begin in the middle of the night — say, 3 a.m. — to leave enough time to get to a pickup point (a parking lot or vacant lot), be picked up (or not — the labor contractors who collect workers and deliver them to farms generally don't take all of them), and get trucked to the worksite. Each crop is different; you're stooping to pick (fruits like strawberries) or cut (vegetables like broccoli) essentially nonstop, usually with pressure to keep up with a truck that's collecting the harvested produce. If you fall behind, you could get kicked out and lose both a day's wages and a ride home. Conditions vary, of course, but there are often very limited breaks.
“It's not just the physical stress,” says Salvador. “It's the psychological stress. You have to keep up, you can't afford to lose this job.” And the pay? Between $10 and $12 an hour, generally. Sometimes a bit more, sometimes less. But, because there isn't year-round work, according to Salvador, “these families are earning $10,000 a year.”
It is disconcerting that two different scenarios, one threatening to farmworkers, one supportive of them, could have a similar effect in our food system. The threatening scenario is a restriction of the labor force driven by immigration enforcement. According to both Guenther and Jacquez, that force is already shrinking, in part because of enforcement under the Obama administration, but also because better conditions in Mexico reduce the incentive to come here, and the aging workforce isn't being adequately replaced. This has put pressure on the sector, which has boosted competition for laborers and raised wages in some places. Stepped-up efforts to close the border, combined with the ongoing aggressive effort to deport people who are here illegally, would increase that pressure.
The supportive scenario looks very different. Many U.S. produce buyers (including me) would like to see the people who bring our fruits and vegetables out of the fields work in decent conditions and earn family-sustaining wages, a situation that could be brought about by legislation (including minimum wage and immigration reforms), collective bargaining, or both.
Either scenario (and, in this political climate, we can hazard a guess as to which is more likely) would raise prices. So it makes sense to ask: What happens when labor prices increase? What if we raise pay from the current rates — about $12 an hour — to, say, the minimum wage that many are advocating, $15 an hour?
I checked in with a few agricultural economists — Jayson Lusk at Oklahoma State University, Philip Martin at the University of California at Davis, and a USDA economist who spoke on the condition of anonymity because public statements would require agency authorization — to understand how that change would reverberate through the food supply.
A wage increase will mostly affect fruits and vegetables, because commodity crops — corn, soy, wheat, cotton, and others — are highly mechanized, so most of the work is done by machines. With produce, about a quarter of every dollar we spend at the supermarket goes to the farmer. A third of that quarter — about 8 cents of your produce dollar — goes to the farmworker.
If wages increased 25 percent (from $12 to $15), and that cost were passed on to us, produce prices would rise 2 to 3 percent. The yearly impact would be in the range of $30 per household, certainly affordable for many but not for all.
But would the costs get passed on to us? It's a critical question, and it's hard to answer. Small increases might, but the supply chain might also respond in other ways. Martin told me in an email that “historically, rising ag wages led to labor-saving mechanization or imports, and food cost as a share of household spending has been falling.” If that's what happens, you won't see that increase in the grocery store because either farmers invest in machinery to reduce labor costs or the supply chain turns to imports. That means smaller farmers, without the economies of scale to support mechanization, are going to have the hardest time.
The larger the increase, the greater the likelihood that the supply chain looks elsewhere, the larger the threat to farms and farmworkers. Everyone I've spoken to on this issue wants to see a system that allows for workers to come here to make sure our crops make it out of the field and into the stores. If we don't have these workers, we risk food rotting in fields and farmers on the margins going out of business. Nobody wants to see an immigration crackdown that leads to that.
But what about the supportive scenario, an across-the-board increase in farmworker wages? If that cost gets passed along, it would increase produce prices commensurately, and making the most healthful foods in our diet even a little more expensive is tough on the consumers least able to afford them. (Although Salvador points out that, if those consumers also earned $15 an hour, we might not have that problem.) If it makes the supply chain look elsewhere for green beans, it could jeopardize the livelihood of farmers and farmworkers alike.
I'm fortunate enough to be able to afford fresh vegetables, and I'm willing to pay more to make sure everyone along the way lives decently. But I also want to safeguard the spinach for our most vulnerable. There's no easy answer.
In order for farmworkers to be paid wages that make it viable to support a family, American produce buyers have to ask what they're willing to pay. While many lower-income consumers have trouble affording fresh produce even at the current levels, higher-income buyers may be willing to pay slightly more. Americans are paying more attention to our food's provenance, and pressure for more attention to animal welfare and environmental responsibility is forcing change throughout the food chain. If we want farmworkers to live decently, it is us, the eaters, who need to pay.
Source: Published originally on The Washington Post, Illegal immigrants help fuel U.S. farms. Does affordable produce depend on them?, by Tamar Haspel, March 17, 2017.
- Author: Ben Faber
The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has released the 2015-2016 California Agricultural Statistics Review. The Review provides an overview of the state's agricultural statistics and weather highlights, as well as county-specific and crop-specific data. Overall, California continues to lead the nation as the largest agricultural producer and exporter despite the challenges posed by a fourth consecutive year of drought.
Highlights from the report are as follows:
- California's agriculture sales decreased by 16.8 percent between the 2014 and 2015 crop years for a total of $47.1 billion in cash receipts.
- California continues to lead the nation in exports, at $20.7 billion.
- California exported nearly 26 percent of its agricultural volume. Overall, California's agricultural exports have grown more than 120 percent during the past decade.
- Fruit and nut crops accounted for 36 percent of gross cash volume in 2015.
- California is the leading agricultural producer in the U.S., representing nearly 13 percent of the U.S. total.
- In 2015, California was home to 77,500 farms, with an average 329 acres — which is smaller than the national average of 441 acres.
- Nearly 27 percent of California farms generate more than $100,000 in commodity sales; the national average is 20 percent.
- The top five agricultural counties in California were Tulare, Kern, Fresno, Monterey and Stanislaus.
- California is ranked as the number one producer of avocados in the U.S. and produced between 60 and 75 percent of the national production of avocados, which accounted for 93 percent of U.S. receipts.
- California avocados ranked 28th in the state based on total value.
The entire California Agricultural Statistics Review is available online.