Results of Ag Labor Survey Released

  • Oct 28, 2017

The California Farm Bureau Federation has released the findings from its Agricultural Labor Availability Survey 2017 online. A total of 762 respondents participated in the survey, representing a broad spectrum of farm employers, including those who raise labor-intensive crops and those whose agricultural enterprises do not require significant employee involvement.

Highlights from the survey are as follows:

  • Sixty-nine percent of survey respondents who employ a seasonal workforce noted they were experiencing employee shortages.
  • Fifty-five percent of all respondents had experienced employee shortages and of those reporting shortages, 36 percent were tree fruit growers.
  • Labor shortages were most acute for growers whose crops require the most intensive hand labor — tree fruits and grapes.
  • Farmers noted they are increasingly trying to retain more of their workforce year-round to ensure they have employees for their peak harvest times.
  • Those farmers who were able to hire employees noted that they had to rely on a less skilled workforce that took longer to complete the work. As a result, some farmers noted they chose not to harvest all or part of their crops.
  • Fewer than 3 percent of the respondents utilized the existing H-2A agricultural immigration program.
  • When asked what actions they have taken in response to employee shortages:
    • Forty-nine percent of respondents offered increased wages, benefits and additional incentives to prevent employees from accepting work with other growers or leaving agriculture altogether.
    • One-third said they used mechanization if available.
    • Twenty-nine percent attempted or investigated mechanization.
    • One-third elected not to engage in labor-intensive cultivation activities such as pruning and grapevine canopy management.
    • Approximately 9.5 percent planted fewer acres.
    • Nine percent did not harvest some of their crop.

Respondents noted that their employees had an increasing “sense of fear and anxiety” due to media reports relaying the “statements made and actions taken by policymakers in Washington, D.C.” Comments from respondents noted that workers were “very scared to move around,” “are afraid of immigration enforcement and deportations” and therefore heading “back to their countries.” Another grower noted a decrease in DACA student labor because many of those students are “leaving due to fear of being deported.” Other commentary noted that the agricultural workforce is aging; nearly 34 percent of respondents reported their employees were retiring or cutting back hours because of their age.

When asked how they planned to cope with employee shortages, short-term plans included offering higher wages/incentives (39 percent), planting less labor-intensive crops (16 percent) and planting fewer acres (10 percent). While many respondents (one-third) noted they were seeking to mechanize cultivation and harvesting processes, it is not currently a viable option for growers of more delicate specialty crops.

Based on the survey results, CFBF noted that the “federal government needs to move rapidly toward allowing a legal, immigrant workforce in the United States to guarantee that future immigrants who desire to work in American agriculture will be allowed entry.” In addition, CFBF “strongly opposes a mandatory E-Verify requirement on employers until a satisfactory immigration path for agriculture is realized.”

The results of the survey can be accessed online, or by clicking on the document in the right-hand navigation.

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