Successful Temecula Winegrape Harvest Wrap-Up

Temecula Winegrape Harvest to Become More Mechanized

 

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

Winegrape harvest is going well in the Temecula area of Riverside County, east of San Diego. Ben Drake, president of Drake Enterprises, Inc., a vineyard and avocado grove management company there, summarized this year’s winegrape harvest. “We’re doing real well,” said Drake, who is also a grower board member of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).

“We had some real hot weather in middle of June, which reduced some of our yields. We got through that warm weather. Vines recovered and some of the fruit recovered. We’re seeing a slight reduction in yield—somewhere between 10 and 20 percent overall—because of that hot spell.”

Ben Drake, Temecula Winegrapes
Ben Drake, president of Drake Enterprises, Inc. and grower board member of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).

 

Harvest began toward the end of July and is now complete, Drake’s winegrape harvest is all hand done, not yet by machine. Drake said only one winery in the Temecula area has a machine.

Hand labor will change soon, according to Drake, because the new overtime bill mandates that farmworkers will receive overtime pay after working a threshold of 8 hours instead of 10. Drake is looking at machines that will dramatically decrease the hours of his workers—a consequence the state’s agriculture industry warned the Assembly about before they passed AB-1066.

“Overall,” Drake said, “it has been a long season. I grow about 35 to 36 different winegrape varieties, which allows me to pick some earlier and some later. That’s just the way they mature. It allows us to have plenty of time to get everything harvested.”


Drake Enterprises, Inc. the premier vineyard and avocado grove Management Company located in Temecula, California. Drake Enterprises, Inc. provides a full range of vineyard and avocado related activities to its clients. These include site selection, soils and water evaluation, variety, rootstock and scion selection, vineyard and avocado grove layout and development, vineyard and avocado grove management, harvest, consulting, avocado marketing strategy and grape brokerage.

Despite Great Harvest, California Apple Growers Face Challenges

California Apple Growers Face Regulatory Disadvantage

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

Many California apple growers are in the midst of harvest season right now. Alex Ott, executive director of the Clovis-based California Apple Commission expects a 3% increase in production across the country. Ott foresees a 1% increase in California this season, where apples stand out because of their freshness.

“California is the fifth largest producer of apples in the United States,” Ott explained. “We are about the third largest exporter of apples in the United States. We like to pick, pack and ship. Unlike other states that like to store fruit and have that fruit around longer, California apple growers like to get in and get out,” Ott said.california-apple-commission-logo California Apple

“We have a small marketing window and we pride ourselves on fresh crops,” Ott elaborated. “So we try to get out of the market no later than December. Sometimes we go as late as January, but the idea is to [quickly] fill that niche window between the Chilean and the Washington state fruit.”

Alex Ott, executive director of the Clovis-based California Apple Commission
Alex Ott, executive director of the Clovis-based California Apple Commission

Yet, the California apple industry faces challenges going forward. Ott stated, “Over the last five years, California apple crop production has decreased by nearly 39%. A lot of that has to do with the changing of the crops. Any time you start to see an uptick in another crop, especially when it is not hand labor-intensive like apples, you will see a migration to those types of crops.”

Transitioning toward less labor-intensive crops may accelerate since Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 1066. This bill will enable California farm employees to accrue overtime pay after working an 8-hour day, instead of a 10-hour day.

“It’s definitely going to be a challenge for California apple growers,” Ott said, especially given the labor shortage. “So apple production in the state will decrease.”

Ott lamented many countries already produce a lot of these other less labor-intensive crops. AB 1066 definitely puts us at a competitive disadvantage in keeping up with demand. The challenge is how can California apple growers compete with farmers in other state and countries who can do it faster and cheaper?

California Growers Confront Labor Issues

Labor Issues—Costs and Farmworker Shortages—Challenge Growers

By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster

 

This year, farmers grappled with labor issues such as shortages and increased labor costs. Some growers had more than enough workers available, while others experienced difficulty in meeting their labor needs. Dave Phippen, co-owner of Travaille & Phippen Inc., a vertically integrated company that grows, packs and ships their own almonds, described some of their struggles with labor this year. “We employ a little more than 50 people year-round, but for harvest we ramp up an extra 15-20 people. There was a squeeze on the availability of the labor and a challenge with what we thought was an acceptable rate of pay,” said Phippen.

almond assessment increaseAs minimum wage increases incrementally every year, growers will struggle to keep up with the higher wages. “There was a new reality in the typical forklift driver, people working in receiving, people sampling,” Phippen elaborated. “We’re paying a little bit more for all of those tasks this year, and because there were more employment [opportunities], it was harder to find people who were available and willing to work.” Phippen also noted that employees “were requiring a greater compensation rate than last year for the same job.”

Travaille & Phippen’s operation has had to reevaluate employee compensation. Phippen explained the principle that as minimum wage increases, compensation rates compress, such that a person who was earning $15 used to be $5 above minimum wage, but is now is only $4 above minimum wage,” Phippen said.

The current federal minimum wage, established in 2009, is $7.25 per hour, up from $5.85 just two years prior. Of the top 10 agricultural producing states in the country, only 4 have minimum wage rates higher than the federal level. California and Massachusetts have the highest minimum wage levels of any other states.

Travaille & Phippen was already compensating a great deal of their labor force above minimum wage; however, to stay competitive and retain their workers, they increased their compensation rates, which caused a ripple effect throughout the supply chain. As their labor costs increased, they had to charge growers more for processing. “It had a big impact on them,” said Phippen, “particularly because those growers are receiving less revenue for their crop this year than they did last year. It was quite a squeeze for our growers and we were caught in the middle of that squeeze,” Phippen explained.

almond-tree-shaking-harvestingLabor issues have also been a significant concern for Mark Van Klaveren, a diversified farmer in Madera who grows almonds, watermelons and Thompson seedless grapes. Van Klaveren noted that timing plays a big role in their labor situation. “Since we tend to pick our Thompson seedless late, when there is a lot of sugar, we were able to get plenty of labor because most of the other vineyards were finished. Their farmworkers were looking for someplace to work.”

Van Klaveren reported that labor proved more challenging for their other crops. “I have a steady crew for watermelons, although with the new laws coming into effect, we are going to have to make some changes and mechanize a lot more of that harvest,” Van Klaveren noted.

Labor costs will become further complicated in the years ahead as overtime limitations established in AB 1066 phase in, beginning in 2019, with all agricultural operations expected to be in compliance by 2025. The combination of increased wages and the limitation of hours will change the way many farms operate. Some growers will increase mechanization. Others growers of labor-intensive crops may replace their crops with commodities that require fewer hours to harvest.

Van Klavern noted, “The only options we have are to mechanize or get out—one of the two. We can’t afford to produce at the same prices we’re getting right now with much higher labor costs. Some machinery out there can do what we need to do and we will look real hard to get some of that in our operation,” said Van Klavern.

An economic analysis conducted by the Highland Economics firm, shows AB 1066 having significant consequences for California agriculture. The study found the policy would reduce farm production as well as farmworker income, and the new time constraints on farmworkers would negatively impact California’s overall economy.

Van Klaveren is skeptical the new legislation will create any positive outcomes. “Workers want to put in the hours. They want to work. If we’ve got to pay them higher wages to start with, and then overtime on top of that after eight hours? There are certain jobs that won’t sustain the higher wages,” Van Klavern said.

In addition to increased costs for employers, increased minimum wage negatively affects workers who are trying to get their foot in the door of a farming operation. When the government raises the entry-level wage so high that people really have to produce a lot per hour, Van Klavern clarified, inexperienced applicants will suffer. “If you cannot produce a volume of work that is worth $15 an hour or more, you cannot work because nobody is going to hire you to lose money,” noted Van Klaveren.

Collectively, farmers are looking at overall labor cost increases between 5 and 15% over the next few years, depending on the crop. Van Klavern expressed a widely-held view that continued government intervention, particularly in the area of wages, is making farming in California unnecessarily difficult. “The whole issue of employment is a private agreement between an employee and employer, as in, ‘I will work for you for so much an hour and try to produce to your expectations.’ In other words, if somebody is willing to work for $8 an hour, why not let them work for $8 an hour? If it is fine with them and fine with the employer, then why not?” said Van Klavern.

The costs of labor and limitations on farmworker hours, combined with the costs of water and increasing environmental regulations, may prove insurmountable for California agriculture. “The economics is all simple, but the government steps in and complicates everything. I guess that leaves it to us to have to figure out how to swerve between all the regulations and stay in business,” noted Van Klavern.

Ag Leaders Discuss AB 1066 Consequences

Ag Leaders on AB 1066 Consequences

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director and Brian German, Associate Broadcaster

California ag leaders hoped that Governor Brown would see how the AB 1066 overtime bill would actually hurt farmworkers and veto it. Now that the Governor has signed it, the following ag leaders weigh in on AB 1066 consequences: Norm Groot, executive director of the Monterey County Farm Bureau; Bryan Van Groningen, field manager for Van Groningen & Sons Farms; and Anthony Raimondo, a Fresno-based attorney who has been representing farmers and farm labor contractors for over 15 years, among them.

Norm Groot

Norm Groot anticipated, “The end result of AB 1066 is a big move to mechanized harvesting, which probably means a change in some of the crops that we’re growing here simply because currently we can’t harvest lettuce or strawberries or some of the other vegetable crops by mechanized means. Lawmakers are forcing the hand of the growers to move into crops that are less labor intensive and thus, save the [labor] cost,” said Groot.

Groot noted the inaccurate AB 1066 assumption—that an increase in overtime hours and pay will result from its passage. “We will probably see their hours cut back to the eight hours a day and forty hours per week,” he explained, as stipulated in the law. “Growers will adjust their planning schedules to the amount of laborers that they think they have available for harvest. It’s not an automatic given that we’re going to see all these paychecks increase, simply because we’re putting overtime at more than eight hours a day or after forty hours a week,” Groot said.

Groot added that farmworkers are not in favor of losing 33% of their income at this point. “I think overall, the unions have been supportive of this particular change, but the unions do not represent the majority of the laborers or field workers at this point,” he said.

“I think if you were to ask the average field worker whether he wants to work ten hours a day and sixty hours a week, he would probably say yes. Field workers want that income. They know they work in a seasonal business; they have to earn their income when they can,” he explained.

Bryan Van Groningen

Bryan Van Groningen
Bryan Van Groningen

“Our farmworkers, our employees, love to put in the extra hours because this is the time that they’re making wages. Our company is accustomed to paying overtime if that’s what it requires,” said Van Groningen, “and the majority of our workers are already satisfied with the existing compensation structure.”

But Van Groningen noted the problem lies in what is considered overtime. With a shorter workday, overtime compensation rates will kick in much earlier than in the past, which will end up being a tremendous cost to the employer. “That’s going to cause our farm to mechanize a little bit more to try to get through the harvest more bit quickly because [the cost] is going to become too big of a burden,” he said.

Growers want to help their employees as best they can, but Van Groningen predicts reduced hours may become a necessity. “It’s just smart business. We don’t want to cut hours, but if we’re forced to because our bottom line is starting to become an issue, that’s what we’ll have to seriously consider,” he said.

Anthony Raimondo
Anthony Raimondo

Anthony Raimondo

Anthony Raimondo foresaw the effects of AB 1066 could put California at a disadvantage in the global marketplace. “At the very least,” Raimondo said, “employers will be forced to evaluate where they can cut production costs.”

“The increased overtime in some industries is going to drive automation,” said Raimondo. “So you are going to lose jobs because now it’s worth it for people to do the research and development to have more automation, more machine-harvested crops and less labor.”

Raimondo also expects some employers to add more H-2A temporary agricultural guest workers to make sure hours stay low enough to prevent their costs from increasing. “In the end, this is really going to cost farmworkers in terms of their real wages and it creates a massive economic disadvantage for California’s agricultural industry,” he said.

Policies like AB 1066 become increasingly problematic as the global agricultural industry continues to become more competitive. “Increasingly, agriculture has become a global marketplace in which we compete against countries that do not maintain the same labor standards nor the same environmental standards that we maintain, so our agricultural industry continues to remain at an economic disadvantage with the rest of the world,” noted Raimondo.


Featured photo: Norm Groot, Monterey County Farm Bureau executive director

Will AB-1066 End Sunup to Sundown Farming?

Will Overtime Bill Kill Sunup to Sundown Way of Farming?

By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster

 

Newly approved by the California Assembly, AB-1066, which would effectively extend the payment of overtime compensation to agricultural employees after 8 hours of work in a day or 40 hours per week, instead of 10 hours per day or 50 to 60 hours per week, awaits Governor Jerry Brown‘s final decision this month. The theory behind the bill is understandable, but according to Bryan Van Groningen, field manager for Van Groningen & Sons, Inc.a California family farming business begun in 1922, agriculture works within a different timetable than other industries.

 

Because agricultural production is fundamentally nature-based, Van Groningen said there is an underlying need for non-traditional workdays. “Our crews, more or less, work from sunup to sundown,” he said. “That is what is required to get our harvest finished.”

 

Van Groningen & Sons employs different types of laborers, some who already work 8-hour days and others who work on a schedule that AB-1066 would  eliminate. “Our field workers—everybody is accustomed to a 10-hour per day and 50-hour per week system,” explained Van Groningen.

 

For Van Groningen & Sons, one of the largest producers of pumpkins for the West Coast, the period leading up to Halloween is naturally one of their busiest times of year. They have a short window of time to get their produce ready for its final destination, so putting an 8-hour limit on their employees would cause problems in meeting their deadline. “We have to get all of our crop in, harvested, transported, packed and shipped by a certain date. If we don’t,” he said, “the date comes and we’re pretty much finished.”

Overtime Bill AB 1066 Heads to Governor’s Desk

California Assembly Sends AB 1066 Overtime Bill to Governor

By Patrick Cavanaugh Farm News Director

 

The California Assembly voted 44 to 32, yesterday, August 29, in favor of a bill that would make California the first in the country to give farmworkers overtime pay after working 8 hours per day or 40 hours per week instead of current law that mandates agriculture workers earn overtime after 10 hours per day or 60 hours per week.

 

CFFA Logo

Because farmworkers are unable to work some days due to weather or harvest schedules, they have historically preferred to work as many hours as possible on any given day. Now farmers may be forced to restrict employees from working more than 8 hours per day to avoid the costly overtime payroll, which would severely hurt their financial bottom line.

 

The bill, which has already cleared the State Senate, now moves on to Governor Jerry Brown, who has until September 31st to sign or veto the bill.

 

George Radanovich, president of the Fresno-based California Fresh Fruit Association (CFFA) that represents many farmers who rely on hand labor, stated, “It’s a clear example of people who live on black top and cement and who never talk to people in the vineyards or in the fields. They think they are helping the farmworker, and they are not. They’re making it harder for the farmworker and for the farmer,” said Radanovich.

 

Roger Isom, president of the Western Agricultural Processors Association (WAPA) and the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association (CCGGA), said AB 1066 just places additional burdens on the farmer. “When you combine this Ag overtime legislation with the minimum wage increase and all of the other labor issues—the workers comp costs that are imposed on growers—it makes us noncompetitive,” Isom said. “On top of that you add the regulatory costs from the different issues like the truck rule; we can’t compete.”

WAPA-Logo

 

“There isn’t anybody out there who wouldn’t want to pay the workers more than what they’re getting today, or even that overtime,” said Isom. “But consider that California is one of only 5 states that even pays overtime, and none of them pay it after only 10 hours. We already had the most stringent overtime regulations for farmworkers in the country before it was ever adopted. Now, we’ve made it worse; we are going to have the highest minimum wage of any farm state out there, so how do we compete?”

 

CCGGA logo

Isom commented, “This last week, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was actually calling Assembly members in the State, urging them to support this bill. We were outraged,” Isom said. “When he was Governor of the State of Iowa, his own state had the lowest Ag wages and has no Ag overtime. The majority of our states, 45 states, have no overtime. You could work 16 hours, 20 hours, and not be paid any overtime.”

 

Isom noted that supporters of AB 1066 are very shortsighted. He predicts the law will only reduce the number of available working hours available for farm employees and thus decrease their earnings. Isom hopes Governor Brown will see this bill as an added negative impact tied to the recently passed increases to California’s minimum wage.

 

Agriculture leaders are calling for all concerned to put pressure on Governor Brown to veto AB 1066 by Emailing or phoning constantly.

Governor Jerry Brown
c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814

Phone: (916) 445-2841
Fax: (916) 558-3160

email: governor@governor.ca.gov


(Featured photo: Roger Isom, president of Western Ag Processors Association and the California Cotton Ginners Association)

Nisei Farmers League and African American Farmers of Calif in Sacramento TODAY to Oppose AB 1066

Nisei Farmers League and African American Farmers of California Discuss Disastrous AB 1066 in Sacramento Today

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: SEE TEDX TALK VIDEO BELOW OF WILL SCOTT, JR., PRESIDENT OF AFRICAN AMERICAN FARMERS OF CALIFORNIA.

 

TODAY, Manuel Cunha Jr., president of the Nisei Farmers League and Will Scott, Jr., president of the African American Farmers of California are meeting in Sacramento with members of the California Assembly to explain the disastrous consequences of AB 1066, referred to as Agricultural workers: wages, hours, and working conditions, on small and minority farmers.

African American Farmers of California logo

 

The effects of this legislation, particularly the Phase-In Overtime for Agricultural Workers Act of 2016,  will be detrimental not only to the farmworker who counts on the extra hours, but to the farmer who, with the increasing costs of regulations and the lack of water, will be forced to cut back on crops and their workforce, according to their joint press release.

 

Manuel Cunha, Jr.
Manuel Cunha, Jr., president, Nisei Farmers League

“The small and minority farmer will be adversely affected by this ill-conceived legislation,” said Manuel Cunha Jr. “The small farmer works hand in hand with their workforce in the fields and [is] in a better position —with direct input from the workers—to determine schedules rather than politicians in Sacramento looking for a soundbite,” he explained. “Without meeting with our small and minority farmers and farmworkers, these politicians pass legislation that will cost our workforce money, our farmers crops, and the residents of California the fresh fruits and vegetables they enjoy everyday.”

 

Both Manuel Cunha Jr. and Will Scott believe the Legislators need to consider the small and minority farmers when casting their votes. “We are confident that after we meet with the Assembly members,” said Will Scott, Jr., they will understand how harmful this legislation is to our farmers and farmworkers. It is our hope that by educating the members, they will understand the importance of this bill and vote No on AB 1066.”


Nisei Farmers League

The League continues to inform grower members about ever changing regulations and policies providing legal assistance for labor and workplace related issues. Our leadership and staff maintains a close working relationship with local, state and federal agencies and legislators to assure grower interests are adequately understood and defended.

The NFL also collaborates with other grower and agricultural organizations in both California and other states to help provide a powerful, unified voice for the agricultural commNisei Farmers League logounity.

Grower members are kept informed through meetings, seminars, newsletters and special bulletins.

Strength, clear focus and growers looking out for growers and farm workers… that is what the Nisei Farmers League is all about.

African American Farmers of California

 

The Fresno-based African American Farmers of California organization has doubled its membership since it opened a 16-acre demonstration farm in Fresno County, which serves as a testing area where new farmers can get hands-on experience growing a variety of produce.

View Will Scott, Jr. present a TEDx Fruitvale Talk (Uploaded on Oct 20, 2011) Here.

 

One of Scott Family Farms primary goals is to reintroduce Southern specialty crops, part of the traditional African American diet, into black communities, to help stop the obesity and diabetes epidemics. Crops include: black-eyed peas, crowder peas, purple hull peas, field peas, collard greens, turnip greens, mustard, corn, tomatoes, okra and sweet potatoes.

Call for Action to Oppose Overtime Bill AB 1066

Overtime Bill AB 1066 Needs Immediate Opposition

By Laurie Greene, Editor

California Assembly Bill (AB) 1066 to change overtime requirements for agricultural workers is returning as a “gut and amend”* measure scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee on June 29, 2016. Emily Rooney, president of the Agricultural Council of California (Ag Council), is urging the agricultural industry to tell the State Senate TODAY how this bill would hurt farmworker wages.

California Senate SealCalifornia already requires agricultural employers to provide overtime pay to farmworkers after they work 10 hours in one day and 60 hours in one week, which recognizes the flexibility that farmers and employees need given the variable nature of farming and seasonal labor. Authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), AB 1066, phases in a new overtime wage law requiring California farmers to pay agricultural workers overtime after eight hours in one day or 40 hours in one week by the year 2022.

Rooney says AB 1066 adds an unnecessary regulatory burden on the agricultural industry, and, combined with the recently passed $15 minimum wage law, makes it difficult for farmers in the state to remain competitive. “We do need six democrats to vote with us to oppose the bill, which will be a challenge,” said Rooney. “The Senate is left of center, at least compared to the Assembly, but we are working very hard to secure those votes and just hope that the bill doesn’t get back to the Assembly.”

Rooney said the Assembly killed a similar bill earlier this month. “It is very disappointing that the bill has been repackaged and presented to the Senate as a gut and amend bill, AB 1066,” she said. “The new bill was basically reintroduced less than two weeks after we defeated it in the Assembly.”

agricultural-council-of-california-logo140Rooney stressed the importance that the Senate not approve AB 1066, because should the Senate approve it, the bill would go back to the Assembly because both houses are needed to pass the bill. “And while the earlier bill failed in the Assembly, we are not sure that it would fail again,” she said.

There are Assembly legislators who voted against it before, who are willing to vote against it again, said Rooney, “but the timing of it is really unfortunate. We expect that while the legislators are on summer recess in July, they may have time to build up support for the bill. It’s the end of session, and we have a number of challenges to defeat the bill; but we are hopeful that if the California Senate does not defeat it, the Assembly will,” said Rooney.


Rooney suggested those who oppose AB 1066 go to the post, “Oppose Gut & Amend Legislation to Change Ag Overtime Wage Requirements” on the Ag Council Action Center webpage“to easily send an opposition letter to their state legislator.


*GUT AND AMEND, according to the California State Legislature Glossary of Legislative Terms describes when amendments to a bill remove the current contents in their entirety and replace them with different provisions.


Featured Photo:   Emily Rooney, president Agricultural Council of California