Local Farmers Seek Central America Labor

April 15, 2008 7:26:09 AM PDT
The search for a steady labor force has some Valley growers working with government leaders in Central American countries.Farmers face a growing uncertainty over the supply of workers from Mexico. Without the personnel to harvest the crop food would rot in the fields. It is a scenario farmers fear so they've been working with leaders in Central America to try to establish a guest-worker program.

Manuel Cunha of the Nisei Farmers League recently returned from a visit to Honduras and El Salvador. He said "We had great meetings with all of the governmental agencies, including both presidents of both countries, opening diplomatic relationship for agricultural so we could bring a guest worker program from their country."

Cunha calls the June valley visit by the presidents of both Honduras and El Salvador a very significant one . The president of Guatemala may also join the group. Cunha said "That's pretty rare, especially if we get the third one because they're part of the Latin trade agreement with CAFTA." We have seen some tree fruit growers rip out entire orchards because of low market prices but there are other factors.

Barry Bedwell of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League said "People have said when you throw in the added uncertainty of labor and when I look at the alternative of something like almonds, which is mechanically harvested I'm going to make that move." To be able to bring in workers from Central America, local AG groups want to make changes to the existing H-2-A program, which they call a bureaucratic nightmare.

Bedwell said "When it comes to lack of other alternatives we're going to our best to make this work as well as possible." Cunha says growers would like to establish a government pilot program to bring a small number of guest workers from Central America to the valley this summer.


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