Valley farmers report labor shortage

FRESNO, Calif.

Valley crews were busy on this Labor Day.

They worked the fields in Merced Monday morning along Yosemite and Arbolita, but some ag officials say California is in desperate need of additional workers.

Work is plentiful on this labor day for farm workers who, unlike many, did not have the day off.

But there's a farm labor shortage and industry experts say is the worst it's been in years.

Picking raisin grapes is non-stop work for these farm laborers even on Labor Day.

And the work has grown due to a labor shortage. As crew leader, the number of employees Antonio Lopez supervises has dropped by almost fifty percent.

Lopez says tighter border security between Mexico and the U.S. is to blame for the labor shortage as most pickers in California are migrant workers.

"The workers know that they're being captured by border patrol and they're sent back," Manuel Cunha of the Nisei Farmers League said.

Cunha is president of the Nisei Farmers League and says border enforcement is contributing to a labor drought, but so are the drug cartels.

"They apprehend the workers to haul drugs. And if you don't they take you out. Going back, they even catch you on the way back and make you haul drugs," Cunha said.

Experts say both these factors are impacting the ag industry in the Valley.

"You've got three big major crops that are taking labor right now, and there's just so much. And so contractors to keep business, they will split up their crews," Cunha said.

That means fewer workers per field and more time it will take them to harvest their crop - a delay that could put these raisin grapes in jeopardy if they're not picked and covered before the rain season hits.

Despite having to do more work these farm workers will be paid more. But if crops aren't picked in time then farmers can lose much of their crop and profits.

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