December 2, 2005


A drought of farm labor (Daniel B. Wood, 12/02/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

Imperial Valley lettuce farmer Jack Vessey says it's the worst in his lifetime. Farther north in California's Central Valley, orange grower Manuel Cunha calls it the most constrained since before World War II. Coastal tomato grower Luwanna Holmstrom constantly worries about a repeat of two years ago, when she had to plow under $2.5 million in tomatoes left unpicked.

California and Arizona farmers - producers of half the nation's citrus and 90 percent of its vegetables and nuts - are struggling with an acute labor shortage. The situation, worsened by crackdowns on illegal immigration since 9/11, also extends to other states and is no longer just a matter of possible price increases on lettuce, oranges, or almonds, farmers say. Rather, it is a turning point in the nation's ability to produce its own food - and possibly the loss of major parts of its agriculture industry.

If the Minutemen really want to alleviate the immigration "problem," they should go pick crops.

Most of what goes into the American salad bowl was picked by illegals (JULIANA BARBASSA, 12/02/05, Associated Press)

Men and women who have crossed the border illegally - mostly from Mexico - may number as high as 20 million, with 12 million to 15 million holding jobs, according to analysts at Bear Stearns in New York. An analysis by Barron's estimated they account for about $970 billion of the goods and services produced by the real economy.

While other industries - service, construction, food processing - have larger total numbers of undocumented immigrants, the majority of farmworkers are illegal immigrants.

They make up 53 percent of the approximately 1.8 million farmworkers in the country, up from about 12 percent in 1989-1990, according to the Labor Department's Agricultural Workers Survey.

"The fact is, the fresh produce industry couldn't exist without a foreign work force, but we don't have a mechanism to bring in foreign workers," said Tom Nassif, president of Western Growers Association, which represents more than 3,000 farmers in Arizona and California.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 2, 2005 9:36 AM

As soon as they're done repaving Tom Tancredo's driveway.

It's hard to pick vegetables sitting in a lawn chair.

Posted by: jeff at December 2, 2005 9:52 AM

Or develop a machine to pick these crops.
We are due for the next "Cotton Gin".

Posted by: J.H. at December 2, 2005 9:52 AM

Jack Vessey and Luwanna Holmstrom can pick the crops themselves. If tomatoes start costing $5 a piece, and people are willing to pay that price, then there will be more incentive to pick that crop. Kinda like cars. If gas costs enough, then people will be willing to buy GEO Metros (or ride on trains). Until then some will buy Suburbans. I think it's called capitalism. Ups and downs.

Posted by: AllenS at December 2, 2005 9:58 AM

I have often thought it ironic that we have a Caesar Chavez postage stamp. the "don't eat grapes," guy.

Actually it is Chile that should be honoring Caesar Chavez. They should put up a statue of him as big as the one of Jesus one in Rio, because Chile is where the grapes come from now.

Posted by: Lou Gots at December 2, 2005 10:04 AM

What next, in order to revitalize the buggy whip manufacturing sector, we should allow illegal immigration?

These crops can just as easily be grown in Mexico and loaded on trucks and delivered to markets as quickly as they can from California, with less damage to American water supplies.

Posted by: h-man at December 2, 2005 10:30 AM


Of course you'll have to move to Mexico to get your lawn mowed....

Posted by: oj at December 2, 2005 10:36 AM

Lawn mowing is what children are for.

Posted by: Michael at December 2, 2005 10:41 AM

lawns ? what are those ?

Posted by: socal at December 2, 2005 11:48 AM

[I]t is a turning point in the nation's ability to produce its own food...


America could produce almost everything that we currently import (including oil) - we just don't, because it's cheaper not to.

However, if we HAD to produce our own fruits and vegetables, we have the ability to do so.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at December 2, 2005 12:21 PM


I have no sympathy for the Tancredos of this world, but there is more to this story, at least as it was published in some of the wire services. The growers quoted refuse to use the H2A visa progrm, for whatever reason. We have large truck farming operations here in East Tennessee, one in particular that I know of, that have used the program for years, and each year for well over the last decade, have gotten completely legal workers in the hundreds from April to November.

Why is it that these growers in California won't avail themselves of this program? I honestly have no idea. The one quote I saw from one of the growers said it was a hassle, but gave no details.

Posted by: Dan at December 2, 2005 2:41 PM

They could use mechanical pickers ( but as long as the growers do not have to bear any of the costs their illegal workers impose on society they will prefer illegal labor, the same way that pro-immi

Posted by: Carter at December 2, 2005 2:58 PM

So now we have to keep people out in order to make jobs for our good American machines?

Posted by: David Cohen at December 2, 2005 5:57 PM


It's the ideal nativist world--one white guy surrounded by machines, since no one else is pure-blooded enough. Bruce Dern in Silent Running is their model.

Posted by: oj at December 2, 2005 6:00 PM

Having picked fruit one summer between high school and college, I'm sympathetic to those who say that farm work is brutally hard, boring and physical. It is. I did it because we were in the midst of a recession and it was the only work to be found, but I sure didn't enjoy it.

So I have no problem with people from Mexico or wherever looking at $6/hr and saying, 'dang, that beats being a campesino in Santa del Fumbuck' and wanting to come here. Figure out how to make it legal and proper, and let it happen.

I do have a problem with the penny-pinching, nasty farmers (and I worked for one) who refuse to pay a decent wage, put illegals in housing that is criminal, and conveniently break the law when it suits them, and then turn around and complain that they can't get anyone to pick their fruit.

It's called a market economy. You want your fruit picked? Pay people a proper wage, and maybe you'll find someone to do the work.

Posted by: Steve White at December 2, 2005 6:41 PM

Who lives in the 3rd whitest state in the US again? To the open borders crowd, immigrants are only wonderful in the abstract, but other than as servants they avoid having any contact with them.

Posted by: Carter at December 2, 2005 7:04 PM

We have Canucks out the wazoo.

Posted by: oj at December 2, 2005 7:53 PM

I packed corn for one summer. I'd probably take up crime as a vocation if I had to go back to it.

Posted by: Pete at December 2, 2005 7:57 PM

Pete, I bailed hay for one summer too. Crime looked good. Went to law school. Same result.

Posted by: jdkelly at December 2, 2005 8:59 PM

All our poor, Spanish speaking immigrants are American citizens with the right to travel freely into the mainland.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 2, 2005 11:03 PM