California farmers and ranchers report that labor shortages continue to be an issue despite multiple efforts to help remedy the problem. The California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF) worked with the University of California, Davis in conducting an agricultural labor survey earlier in the year which found that more than half of respondents indicated they were unable to meet their labor needs at times over the previous five years. The survey responses reflect broad coverage across California counties, as well as a diverse cross-section of commodities.
“The survey shows farmers have tried and are trying all the tactics available to them, such as increased wages, changes in farming and cropping patterns, use of the existing H-2A visa program and automation where appropriate,” CFBF President Jamie Johansson said in a news release. “The missing element is an improved agricultural immigration system, to match willing employees with farm employers.”
The latest labor survey had similar results to the one conducted in 2017. Of the 1,071 farmers and ranchers who participated in the 2019 survey, 56 percent noted an inability to fill their labor needs. The summer 2017 survey showed 55 percent of respondents experienced issues with labor availability. The labor issues appear to be worsening, as more than 70 percent specified that 2017 and 2018 were particularly difficult to hire enough employees for on-farm jobs. Farmers are attempting to work around the lack of labor through a variety of different approaches.
In order to adapt to the challenges created by an inadequate amount of labor available, 86 percent of those surveyed said they have increased wages and 61 percent reported using a farm labor contractor to recruit employees. A third of respondents adjusted their cultivation practices, while another third switched acreage. Along with labor shortages, a large number of survey participants noted rising labor costs as a contributing factor for implementing more technologically advanced equipment in their operation.