A major food shortage is on the horizon, and the majority of lawmakers in D.C. just don’t seem to care. In fact, the president’s modus operandi seems to be to divide and then divide some more until we have instilled such a deep fear about our farmworkers that they leave the country. Unfortunately, as it stands right now, we are already seeing a labor shortage, and some farmers are being forced to leave a significant amount of their crop unharvested. John Krist, chief executive officer of Farm Bureau of Ventura County, confirmed this reality, stating that in Ventura County, local farmers, at peak harvest, only have about 75 percent of the skilled labor force needed to pick crops. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-San Francisco, however, is plowing ahead with her Agricultural Worker Program Act despite the lack of bipartisanship and the tumultuous atmosphere in Washington.
The bill would allow farmworkers who have worked in agriculture for at least 100 days in each of the past two years to earn lawful “blue card” status. Farmworkers who maintain blue card status for the next three or five years, depending on the total hours worked in agriculture, would be eligible to adjust to a green card or legal permanent residency. Feinstein said that up to 70 percent of farmworkers are undocumented; Krist relayed similar numbers, saying that 90 percent of farmworkers are immigrants and 60 percent are undocumented. In Ventura County, there are approximately 36,000 farmworkers. With the president’s unsubstantiated fearmongering over undocumented immigrants, the pool of skilled laborers is only going to shrink further.
There are some other issues to consider as well. With the ongoing affordable housing crisis, Ventura County being one of the most expensive places to live in the country, this effectively drives skilled laborers to other agricultural areas outside the region. As the labor shortage persists, driving up wages in a highly competitive market, farmers’ profit margins begin to shrink. Plus, with the increasing cost of water, farming in Ventura County seems to be an unstable enterprise. With the county ranking No. 8 in value for its agricultural industry in the state, if elected officials don’t do something, the future, not only for the county but also for what it contributes to the global food chain, is looking rather bleak. But there is still time to act.
Krist admits that the Agricultural Worker Program Act or any legislation to help farmworkers needs to be more comprehensive, that the temporary work visa program needs to be reformed and streamlined to help workers get through legally, but this bill is a step in the right direction. We agree with Krist, though we remain skeptical, concerned that any reasonable bill to address the farmworker shortage will not get the bipartisan support needed to pass at this time. There is hope, though. California lawmakers are not shy about their support to shield and help undocumented immigrants. This issue, however, boils down to one thing. What will we eat when our food costs are so high because we did nothing to help the ones that provide it?