November 21, 2006


Shortage of workers imperils Yuma crops: Farmers point to lack of a guest-worker law (Daniel Gonzalez, 11/21/06, The Arizona Republic)

C.R. Waters practically lives in his pickup now that harvest season has begun for the winter vegetable capital of the United States.

As the farm manager for a major vegetable distributor, he makes sure everything from iceberg lettuce to broccoli is ready to pick at precise times throughout the season.

"This one should be ready the first week of January," Waters said one recent morning, stepping out of his pickup into a field of romaine lettuce.

So far, good weather has created ideal growing conditions, but Waters is worried that when the vegetables are ready, there won't be enough laborers to get crops to market.

Waters, president of the Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association, said it will take 30,000 seasonal workers to harvest the sea of winter vegetables grown in Yuma County, where the fruit-and-vegetable crop was valued at $745 million in 2004. The area produces 90 percent of the winter vegetables consumed in the U.S. and Canada, and 98 percent of the iceberg lettuce.

If growers can't find enough workers, some crops may go unpicked. That could hike prices at the supermarket and create substantial financial losses for farmers.

Always amusing to hear folks claim that the natives are just poised to rush in and fill these jobs if only the immigrants weren't taking them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 21, 2006 8:19 AM

Regardless of what one thinks of Mexicans doing this work, isn't the "market" supposed to use increased wages to lure workers if none are available from across the border?

Is there a wage rate at which the unemployed blacks and poor whites won't enter the fields to pick crops?

Has this owner tried to recruit? Has he raised wages, hired buses. Would it be worth it, or should the food just rot?

Just asking here.

Posted by: Bruno at November 21, 2006 9:58 AM

Well, Bruno, As you know, the market says that America should not be growing food at all. The cost of American workers, water and land make it unable to compete with foreign countries. But the nativists(Who could that be Bruno?) don't believe in free trade, and demand that America grow it's own food. Good straw man tho.....

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at November 21, 2006 10:37 AM

Bruno is on the right track. The market does indeed adjust the supply of labor to the demand thereof.

It is very simple. The demand for labor is understated. That $1 lettuce we are buying is actually worth $2 in relation to the native labor supply. We allow the coyotes and corrupt farmers to outrage our laws so that we may enjoy cheap produce. If the farmer in the article can't sell his lettuce at a price the consumer will pay, then he needs to find another line of work.
Very much Ecn 101. The market is doing exactly what it is supposed to do.

Now the policy decision should be whether we want a guest worker program or whether we want to pay
$2 for a head of lettuce. The reason a solution eludes us is that we are quite satisfied with the present hypocracy.

Posted by: Lou Gots at November 21, 2006 10:46 AM

Seems to me either way we pay more in the short term.

But that should be part of the "shared scrifice" as the Wicked Witch of the West has fondness of saying.

Posted by: Sandy P at November 21, 2006 10:57 AM

It also creates an incentive to develop technology to replace labor, increasing productivity, etc.

Posted by: Gideon at November 21, 2006 11:29 AM

The problem with the technology, Gideon, is the number of Americans who want "organic" produce......

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at November 21, 2006 11:58 AM

Not enough workers to pick the crops? I have a one word solution: shanghai.

Pull the illegals off of the roofs and out of the restaurants, and make them pick the crops.

Posted by: AllenS at November 21, 2006 1:12 PM

There are enough illegals in the US now to pick the crops. Problem is other industries (construction, food processing plants, carpet manufacturers to name a few) are now taking their workers.

Posted by: ijricha at November 21, 2006 3:51 PM

If there are unemployed people the wage rate is too high.

Posted by: oj at November 21, 2006 4:08 PM


Pay that wage to pick the crops, and everyone will just buy the $2 lettuce from Peru instead, where the pickers are thrilled to get half the wage.

Posted by: Mike Earl at November 21, 2006 4:23 PM