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."
UC Cooperative Extension will hold workshops in Temecula Feb. 1 and 2 to help California farmers facing agriculture labor challenges stemming from wage and hour laws, joint liability, worker protection, workers' compensation, insurance and immigration issues and policies.
“Farmers are better prepared to face uncertainty in labor markets with up-to-date information and strategies for dealing with people management, and legal and regulatory issues,” said Ramiro Lobo, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor in San Diego County and workshop organizer. Additional program partners are the California Farm Labor Contractor Association, Zenith Insurance Company and Wilson Creek Winery and Vineyards.
The workshops will be at Wilson Creek Winery and Vineyards, 35960 Rancho California Rd., in Temucula. “Challenges and Strategies in Agricultural Labor Management” runs from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 1. The program includes a review of labor management issues in Southern California, an update on labor laws, basic strategies for legal and effective hiring and orientation, and effective management of worker injuries. The event ends with wine tasting hosted by Wilson Creek.
“Management and Supervision of Personnel for Agricultural Operations,” will be offered in Spanish on Feb. 2. The program, intended for farm owner/managers and first-line supervisors, provides information on effective supervision and management in times of labor shortage, positive and clear communications, and preventing sexual harassment and bullying. Networking and wine tasting, hosted by Wilson Creek, conclude the program.
“Properly managing personnel is critical because of the scarcity of labor,” Lobo said. “We will provide strategies to retain employees by making the workplace more attractive.”
Advance registration is available with a credit card online. Registration for the Feb. 1 workshop is $80 per person before Jan. 20, and $100 after or at the door, if space allows. Registration for the Feb. 2 workshop is $60 per person before Jan. 20, and $80 after or at the door, if space allows. A registration discount is available for participants to attend both events. For both events, registration is $120 before Jan. 20, and $140 after or at the door, if space allows.
For more information see the San Diego County Small Farm website.
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."
Pending federal legislation that would require employers to check worker eligibility using an system called E-Verify is divisive and unrealistic, writes attorney Dirk Stemermen in his Monterey Herald column "On the Job."
"Nothing turns conservative 'growers' into immigrant-rights advocates quicker than obligatory E-Verify use," Stemermen said.
E-Verify, which checks information from an employee's I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Form against government records to determine U.S. employment eligibility, is already in use in Arizona, Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama.
Stemermen said that economists at UC Davis and the USDA released a study last month concluding that such crackdowns on undocumented farmworkers raise labor costs as documented workers demand better wages and working conditions.
The columnist seems to be referring to research covered in a recent UC Davis news story that said immigration reform and stricter enforcement of current immigration laws could significantly boost labor costs for California’s $20 billion fresh fruit, nut and vegetable crops.
“California’s produce industry depends on a constant influx of new, foreign-born laborers, and more than half of those are unauthorized laborers, primarily from Mexico,” the news release quoted Phillip Martin, a professor of agricultural and resource economics and one of the nation’s leading authorities on agricultural labor.
“The cost of hiring these laborers will likely rise as the U.S. government ramps up enforcement of immigration laws by installing more physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border and requiring more audits of workers’ I-9 employment verification forms,” Martin says.
Stemermen also raised the issue of farmworker overtime pay in his column. California farmworkers don't receive overtime pay unless they work more than 10 hours in a day or 60 hours in a week.
"Verifying employment eligibility through E-Verify or paying California farmworkers more overtime would lead to higher farmworker wages and create jobs for documented workers. But because farmworkers are so poorly paid for the unwanted, arduous work they perform, perhaps a bit of realism needs to be injected into the immigration debate," Stemermen wrote./span>
Farmworkers harvest vegetables in the Salinas Valley.