Workers manage California crops

California farmers are failing to find enough workers to pick fruits and vegetables as well as harvest other crops. 

Despite raising wages and increasing benefits, California farmers are failing to find enough workers to pick fruits and vegetables as well as harvest other crops. Farmers are offsetting the labor shortage by changing to less-labor-intensive crops and adding automation. They’re also calling on Congress to enact agricultural-workforce reform that would allow immigrants to work as guest workers legally.

The California Farm Bureau Federation and the University of California-Davis surveyed more than 1,000 of the state’s farmers and published “Still Searching for Solutions: Adapting to Farm Worker Scarcity Survey 2019.”

  • 56 percent of respondents reported they were unable to hire the number of workers they wanted at some point in the previous five years.
  • 70 percent said they had more trouble hiring people in 2017 and 2018.
  • 86 percent of farmers said they raised wages in efforts to hire enough people.
  • 61 percent reported they hired a farm-labor contractor to recruit employees.
  • 37 percent said they adjusted cultivation practices by, for example, reducing or delaying weeding and pruning.
  • 31 percent of farmers reported changing the acreage of their main crop, and some in that group reported switching to less-labor-intensive crops.

The study’s findings show the potential for a changing food supply as farmers move to crops requiring less human labor to bring crops to market.

  • Of those who changed crops, 57 percent were planting more crops such as squash, tree nuts, corn or cotton, which require less labor.
  • Almost three-quarters of farmers cited increasing labor costs as the reason for switching to labor-saving technology.
  • More than 50 percent said it was because they didn’t have enough employees. Farmers reported adding technology such as a mechanical harvesters.
  • Less than 6 percent said they had enrolled in the federal H-2A work visas program for temporary agricultural workers in the past five years. Most said the temporary visas aren’t practical for small growers.
  • Respondents echoed a nationwide trend that their children don’t want to continue farming with the growing challenges of finding workers and earning a living.