Strawberry Labor Issues May be Helped

New Technology in the Strawberry Industry Addresses Labor Issues

By Mikenzi Meyers, Contributing Editor

Once again, technology has taken crop production to the next level. This time, strawberry growers are reaping the benefits of technological advancements. Pete Molero and his team at Plantel Nurseries have come up with a transplanting machine that will address labor challenges in the strawberry field.

“We have come up with a transplanting machine that uses a 25-man crew to plant strawberries that have foliage on them and have a plug just like a transplant vegetable plug now,” Molero explained.

He further added that the machine can plant an acre an hour, a pace that would typically take 80 to 100 employees to achieve.

According to Molero, the process is simple.“The plug goes in, the plant gets dirt, and its set and ready to go.”

He described the root itself as a two-and-a-half to three-inch plug with first growth leaves at about three to four inches tall. As of right now, there is only one variety of strawberry available for the summer. However, new ones are being tested in hopes that this new equipment will continue to make improvements.

Is the UFW a Union?

Attorney Michael Saqui Says UFW is Social Reform Movement

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

Michael Saqui, is a principal with the Saqui Law Group, based in Roseville and Salinas, and he recently shared some opinions about the UFW with California Ag Today.

“They’re not a union, in my opinion. I have been fighting the UFW my whole career,” he said.

Saqui Law Group handles wage an hour, labor relations, employment litigation, and other disciplines for the agricultural industry. He said UFW is far from being a union.

“They are not an organized union; they’re a social reform movement, plain and simple,” Saqui said.

“They’re a political action committee that raises money from the limousine liberals,” he said.

Saqui said that the millions that are contributed to the organization do not get back to the workers.

“They run very much like a criminal organization. The way they funnel and shield money and not much gets back to the farm worker.”

The UFW thinks they have been successful at what is called the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI), where they have gotten retail companies to sign onto a code of conduct.

“These metrics that they have put together for compliance in all areas, including wage an hour, treatment, and respect are already codified in California state law to make large companies and other folks feel good,” he said.

Saqui has had no input on the EFI which they point to as a success.

“They can’t organize workers and when they do organize workers, history has shown that they have been absolutely inept at getting contracts,” Saqui said.

Labor Challenges in Sweet Potatoes

Challenges Are High Demand for Innovation

By Mikenzi Meyers Associate Editor

Harvest for sweet potatoes is in full swing, which means long hours and high labor expenses for producers. Scott Stoddard, of the UC Cooperative Extension in Merced County, knows the difficult task at hand in managing time and money.

With new overtime laws in place, the extended work days during harvest can be costly to farmers. With insight into several operations, Stoddard explained, “Everybody is crunched and trying to get as much as they possibly can get done in a day.”

However, this isn’t the only issue farmers are facing, because although hourly pay is on the rise, labor is becoming more difficult to find.

Stoddard said, “I had a guy tell me last week when I was harvesting sweet potatoes that it is getting a little bit harder to find labor.”

All of these factors, he concluded, are driving forces for mechanical innovation.

Innovation and new pieces of equipment are continuing to “shake up” the industry, Stoddard noted. In a typical operation, it takes two passes in sweet potato fields to eliminate excess vines leading up to harvest. Stoddard said that the new machine is capable of removing vines pre-harvest in just one pass.

“It helps get rid of the extra little vines that are still left over after you flail mow the crop,” he explained.

Although this machine is costly, according to Stoddard, it is estimated to save about one person per harvester, which in the big picture can add up.

“It’s a little tweaking of the system, which will make sweet potato harvest more labor efficient.”

Labor Seminar in Bakersfield On Developing Trends

Many Big Labor Topics to be discussed 

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

The Redd Group is offering a labor seminar for owners, operators, HR team members, farm labor contractors and administrators on Aug. 22nd from 8 a.m.to 4 p.m. at Hodel’s Country Dining in Bakersfield.

“We’re going to discuss hot topics in agriculture, oil, and transportation, such as I-9 audits—what to do when ICE show us up and the onerous wage and hour traps,” said Jesse Rojas, with the Redd Group. “We will focus on all that red tape, and burdensome regulations that businesses in California deal with every day.”

The keynote speaker will be former Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, who also owns Continental Labor & Staffing.

Registration required. For more information and to register for the workshop, call Jesse Rojas at 844-946-7333 or email jesse@reddgroup.org.

Labor Issues Affecting Harvest

California Faces Labor Issues

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

California Ag Today recently had the chance to interview Alex Ott, Executive Director of the California Apple Commission, California Blueberry Commission, and the California Olive Committee. He said the apple harvest went well, but there are labor issues in California that will be affecting the industry in the future.

Alex Ott

There is a big concern regarding the ongoing labor issues. These issues don’t just affect apples and blueberries, but other commodities as well. The increased rules and regulations in California are one component to the decrease in labor.

“You have all of the new rules, whether it be mandatory increase in wages, that obviously inflate a lot of the other wages that are currently already in existence,” Ott said.

Another cause is that they have done away with the ag exemption overtime. With all of the stress following that change, the stress is put on the labor and in this type of situation, the labor decreases.

“I think it is a combination of a lot more increased enforcement of what is going on down at the border, and as a result, you see a lot of folks that just are not available to work,” Ott explained. “Many workers will decide to just not go to work. Not only is the stress on the labor, but the growers as well. If the grower does not increase what he is bringing in, it makes it very difficult to pay the increased costs.”

CDFA’s Karen Ross: Water and Labor are Big Issues for California

CDFA Secretary Says State has High Water and Labor Standards

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, spoke to California Ag Today recently about the two big challenges regarding California agriculture.

“[The] two biggest challenges we have are labor and water. Some days, labor’s number one and water’s number two, but they’re both always right up there,” she said.

Karen Ross

Ross spoke at the recent California Citrus Conference in Visalia.

“I think for the future, water is very key to how we’ll grow. I think it’s important for people to think about how we farm in this state,” she said. “We farm to extremely high environmental standards, and extremely high labor standards. Those are responsibilities that we have taken on. I certainly hope that people will continue to buy California to reward that kind of stewardship, because it comes with a price.”

Ross noted that investment is key with labor, automation and water.

“We just have to get through a couple of really big, challenging issues,” she explained. “Automation’s going to definitely be more of our future, and as we invest in that automation, we have to make sure we’re concurrently investing in the workforce skills development to go with it, because they will be different jobs.”

“When it comes to water, the renewed focus on how do we do intentional groundwater recharge as part of making the sustainable groundwater management actually work in our basins is going to be an exciting opportunity for us,” she said.