California Farmers: Immigration Uncertainty Costing Millions In Lost Productivity

YOLO COUNTY (CBS13) — California is facing a farmworker shortage, and the blame is landing on the country’s changing immigration landscape.

Almost 70 percent of farmers around California are reporting labor shortages this year, according to a survey by the California Farm Bureau.

Yolo County farmer Jim Durst says he blames his shortage on President Donald Trump.

“When people don’t feel safe, and they’ve created a level of hostility in our country, people go into hiding they become incognito,” said Jim Durst.

Durst has been farming for the last 30 years, and it’s the first time he’s experienced a major labor shortage.

“We always have a waiting list for people to come to work here, and like a week into our tomato harvest, that list went away,” Durst said.

Every summer, an average of 70 migrant farm workers flood into Durst’s farm. This year, Durst says that number dropped by more than 20 percent.

“We’re not able to harvest all the product that we have, we’re not able to meet our sales,” said Durst.

The shortage cost him close to 30,000 cartons of cherry tomatoes.

“More than I’d like to admit — more like $500,000 to $1 million worth of sales,” Durst added.

Durst says the tomatoes and asparagus he grows can only be hand-picked; there’s no other option.

“What you’re seeing happening is farmers offering higher wages to attract a workforce,” said Brian Little, with the California Farm Bureau.

But Durst says he’s always paid his farm workers handsomely, which is why he now believes they’re hiding in fear.

“I’ve heard reports of employees being a little uncomfortable,” Little said.

Little says while the president’s immigration rhetoric could certainly be scaring workers off the fields, he says labor shortages have been an ongoing issue over the past several years.

“We are continuing to work as we have for the last many years on trying to create immigration and workforce policy that will address this problem,” added Little.

Durst isn’t waiting around to see what’s going to be done: he says, for now, he has to go with the flow.

“If it means shrinking our farm down? We’ll do that too.”

There are several bills in Congress aimed at addressing the shortage, which includes creating a house-work program and issuing temporary visas to undocumented workers.

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