Labor shortage worries Valley growers

FRESNO, Calif.

Valley produce is rapidly maturing under these warm conditions and as a result, food processors now need more people.

Jobs which don't require hard labor in the hot sun are much easier to fill. Farmers worry this could be a very difficult season in getting fruit off the tree.

Wawona Frozen Foods in Clovis needs seasonal workers to help process the upcoming peach crop. The company seeks sorters, machine operators and other workers. Over a hundred people have already applied in person at the Wawona office at Alluvial and Peach.

Several other crops are starting to come into season and many Valley farmers are worried they might not have enough workers for the harvest.

"We're on an early harvest year already," said Ryan Jacobsen. "With the heat we've seen so far it's accelerated the crops ripening and we're anywhere from one to two weeks early."

Many farmers competing for a smaller labor pool raised their hourly wage to $9.00 an hour. But some workers seek a return to the housing sector, which has begun to show signs of recovery.

Manuel Cunha with the Nisei Farmers League said, "They offer more than we can offer and in the construction world they can offer longer employment."

Cunha added tighter border restrictions have reduced the flow of undocumented workers.

"The cost is huge and then the other thing they fear is coming through the borders is the human traffickers and drug cartel have figured out the routes and know the routes of the workers," said Cunha.

June is a big month for the tree fruit industry. Growers are trying to get product out before the Fourth of July.

"Crew sizes are down and we're worried," said Cunha. "I think when peak gets here in august we're going to have problems."

Cunha cites the labor shortage as a reason why immigration reform is needed. He heads to Washington D.C. Thursday to air the concerns of Valley farmers.

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