The Impact of Regulations For Farmers

Regulations Affect California Farmers in a Big Way

By Tim Hammerich, with The Ag Information Network of The West

Most Californians will tell you they enjoy the local and diverse amounts of produce available in this state. High labor costs and other heavy regulations are encouraging some farmers to shift more focus on crops that are less labor intensive.

“So with a minimum wage going up, with the overtime rules ratcheting down, we’re kind of caught in a vice,” said Cannon Michael, President of Bowles Farming Co and the 6th generation of his family to farm the land near Los Banos.  “And to put one wage across an entire state where you really have different costs of living in different counties, it’s pretty drastic differences, really makes it difficult,” he added.

“And then when you couple that with the fact that the Federal minimum wage is much lower in a lot of other producing areas of the country that compete with us, don’t have even close to what the minimum wage that we have,” said Michael. “And they don’t have the overtime because they have the federal exemption for overtime.”

And then so not only that, but you look outside of the U S and there’s  Mexico and some of our close competitors there, which have no regulatory standards. “They do not have the standards that push up our fuel prices, chemical costs, really every single input that we have is a higher cost here.”

We are always looking for the right mix of crops that we can grow, that deliver the highest value while again, just not stretching our folks too hard, and too far. “Because it is hard as you diversify into a lot of different things, it gets to be challenging,” he said.

Even though the regulatory pressure is there, Michael said he is very committed to making it work, but the regulatory environment is certainly a challenge.

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.

H2-A is Only Legal Solution For Labor Without Immigration Reform

H2-A is Heart of One Farm Labor Contractor

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

H2-A employees are the heart of one major farm labor company. Steve Scaroni owns Fresh Harvest, a premier labor provider and staffing and harvesting company to the agricultural industry and the western United States. But the company’s main emphasis has always harvested crops related to salads; they have also expanded into permanent crops.

“Last year, we started citrus and pears, and we will continue to expand in vegetables with anything that goes into a salad, lots of head lettuce, romaine, and broccoli, which is what we have been doing for a long time,” Scaroni said.

And then we touch a lot of salads every day. The H2-A temporary agricultural program allows agricultural employers when anticipating a shortage in domestic workers to bring non-migrant foreign workers to the US to perform agricultural services for a temporary or seasonal nature.

Steve Scaroni

“If it wasn’t for H2-A, I wouldn’t be in business. I mean that’s the only way to get a legal worker into California to serve my customers demands for the services we offer, which is mostly labor and harvesting,” Scaroni said.

“And we’re even starting to do a lot of farm services. We’re bringing up 100 irrigators this year to put throughout the Salinas Valley because our Salinas customers can’t get enough irrigators,” he said.

Being a labor contractor has its difficulties. It takes a lot of work. It’s a very bureaucratic process-driven application process.

“Laborers that show great work ethic will be able to work for a longer period of time. A worker could technically stay if I can move it from contract to contract, and I can keep the temporary employee for three years,” Scaroni said. “But then he has to go back for 90 days, but it’s very hard to time the contracts for that to work.”

“So most guys, they’ll do five, six, seven months. They’ll go home before they can come back. And then the guys that are really good workers with and a great attitude and really get it done for us. We’ll move to another contract. Will even retrain them in a different crop if they have the right attitude and work ethic,” he said.

Latino Workers Appreciated on Dairies

Campaign Targeting Latino Community for Dairy Workers

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

Western United Dairymen, based in Modesto, is launching a Spanish language campaign to educate the Latino community about working for California dairies, according to Anja Raudabaugh, chief executive officer of the organization.

“We’re basically going to be offering a lot of benefits for Latino employees and their families to stay working for dairies or to come to work for dairies,” she said. “We’re going to be doing quite a bit of immigration services, free of charge for those families. We want to elevate the status of women on the dairy farm because they tend to do really well with the cows and the calves.”

The campaign is known as Lecheros Unidos de California.

“We are really targeted and branding, with the dairy community and not just Western United Dairy,” Raudabaugh said.

The campaign will be heard throughout the San Joaquin Valley on Spanish radio and television. The California dairy industry compensates Latino workers well beyond minimum wage to get the work done.

“This is a effort to strengthen the connection that the Latino community has with the dairy industry,” Raudabaugh. “We want them to know that we care for the community and count on them to work in our industry.”

 

 

 

“Grow On” To Help Growers

Bayer Crop Science’s Grow On Campaign Has Six Focus Areas

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director
Nevada Smith

Grow On is a tool developed by Bayer Crop Science that farmers can use to identify, apply, and communicate sustainable farm practices. Grow On is made up of six different ag sustainability focus areas. This includes water, biodiversity, soil health, greenhouse gasses, labor, and food waste, all of which are important factors in sustainability.

California Ag Today spoke with Nevada Smith, Western Region Marketing Manager for Bayer Crop Science, about the six focus areas.

“One is water. And water is an especially important topic to Californians.”

Biodiversity. Think about the things you’re doing in the environment, from fertility, chemistry compounds.”

Food waste. How do you approach food waste? This is a big topic from a global aspect. Massive amounts of produce goes to waste. How can this food waste be utilized? I spoke to a grocer recently. They said they’re losing 30% of their food to food waste,” Smith explained.

“We think that soil health platform is the next wave of science for the ag industry. What’s going on in that microflora market in the soil? What are you doing to really adjust, get the air right, add right water, the right nutrients? Greenhouse gasses. How do you handle CO2 emissions?”

“Greenhouse gas is a buzzword among consumers. And what component of your farming practices are you doing to mitigate that from a practical standpoint?”

Labor is affecting everybody in California.

“And new labor laws are making business hard for small farmers. The minimal wage standard is a challenging issue, but how do growers become more efficient? How do they understand what the platforms are doing from a grower perspective? Smith said.

For more information on, visit: cropscience.bayer.us.

 

Family Tree Farm Sees Good Season Despite Labor Laws

Family Tree Farm Rising to Meet Challenges

By Melissa Moe, Associate Editor

New state labor regulations continue to make daily operations more difficult for California farmers. With these increasing costs, it is difficult to stay competitive in a global market. Family Tree Farms is a family owned operation out of Reedley. Daniel Jackson of Family Tree Farms said that they’re doing well even, with the new labor laws that are making business more difficult for California farmers.

“The regulations grip us around the throat a little bit, and they’re getting tighter and tighter every year. We’re just trying to keep air in our lungs. To get creative, we have to find ways to be better farmers. To produce more yield and to do it more affordably with less labor. We have to be creative on our cultural practices and how we do that so that we can survive in the marketplace. We’re trying to make it work, but at the end of the day, it seems like every time you solve an obstacle three more pop up,” Jackson said.

Even with these new regulations, Family Tree Farms has been doing well. They have risen up to meet these new challenges, and the year ahead looks promising.

“The labor has been better this year, and I can’t really give the reason why. It wasn’t a great pollenization year, so crops are a little bit lighter as far as the fruits that are on the tree or actually having workers available. That could change as more crops start to come on as the blueberry harvest continues. Cherry seems like they’ll be wrapping up around here as grapes kick into gear later on in another few weeks, so we may run into those challenges as the season goes on, but right now, so far so good,” Jackson said.

Regulatory Agency and Farmworkers Negotiate Accord

A farmworker advocacy group and the agency that regulates pesticide use in Monterey County today announced the establishment of a farmworker advisory committee to advise the agency and to connect field workers to resources that the agency can use to help them. “The advisory committee gives us direct access to farmworker leaders; to their concerns and to their suggestions,” commented Eric Lauritzen, the Agricultural Commissioner of the County of Monterey.

“This gives us the opportunity to engage in positive, productive conversations that will help us fulfill our obligations to the farmworker community and to the agricultural industry in general.”

Farmworker leaders trained by the Center for Community Advocacy (CCA) will compose the advisory committee.

“CCA strives to develop leadership capacity among farmworkers at the neighborhood level,” explained Juan Uranga, CCA’s executive director and lead attorney. “We use CCA’s housing, health and poder popular programs to spot, recruit and engage neighborhood leaders throughout the Salinas and Pajaro valleys.

These leaders first improve conditions in their housing units and neighborhoods. We then create venues where these neighborhood leaders can use their collective power to strengthen their families and create positive change in their communities.”

Six of these CCA-trained neighborhood leaders will comprise the advisory committee.

“We are excited about creating this opportunity,” said one of the CCA neighborhood leaders. “We are pioneers and we hope we’ll be able to work together to help our brothers and sisters who work in the fields. We had a ‘meet and greet’ session with the Commissioner and his staff and we were impressed by their willingness to work with us.”

The Committee will advise the Commissioner’s Office on policies and practices as they impact field workers in Monterey County. The advisory committee and the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office will strive to improve protocols that protect farmworkers from pesticide exposure and other protocols within the Commissioner’s jurisdiction that protect the health and safety of farmworkers.

The partnership will also help disseminate information about resources and programs that the Commissioner’s Office can make available to the farmworker community.

The advisory committee comes after negotiations that led to a Statement of Purpose between CCA and the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office.

The Statement describes the following functions for the committee:

  1. To meet at regular intervals with the Commissioner and his/her staff to exchange information and ideas that will improve the safety of farmworkers.
  2. To help disseminate safety information from the Commissioner’s Office to the farmworker community, as the need arises
  3. To host annual community dialogues where farmworkers and the Commissioner’s Office meet to discuss the Commissioner’s jurisdiction over agricultural lands in Monterey County.
  4. To promote a more sustainable agricultural economy in Monterey County by protecting its most critical resource: farmworkers.

Discussions about forming the committee began several years ago when the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office and Poder Popular, then a program of the Community Foundation for Monterey County and since a CCA program, hosted a community forum.

Working through a rocky start, both the Commissioner’s Office and CCA saw the incredible potential in developing a working relationship. The two agencies had never worked together. Each had questions about the other’s willingness to work cooperatively.

The two agencies developed their relationship by working together on several projects including the AgKnowledge Program hosted by the Grower-Shipper Foundation and a series of small forums between the Commissioner’s Office and CCA-trained leaders. Now, both the Agricultural Commissioner’s office and CCA look forward to this joint effort.

CALIFORNIA HELPING FARM LABORERS PAY BILLS DUE TO DROUGHT

“The majority of the jobs here are Ag related so you’re talking close to 80 percent of the community that depends on Ag; from truck drivers to field workers to working in the packing sheds,” said Mendota Mayor Robert Silva.


When water is scarce, so are jobs in the fields — making it harder for people to pay rent. 

“People are working but they’re not working as much as they used to,” said Silva.

Which is why the state of California is helping laborers pay their bills. The Department of Housing and Community Development is offering drought housing rental subsidies in 24 counties including Fresno, Tulare and Merced.

“I wouldn’t expect it to be available past November but hopefully the drought will have subsided by then and people will be getting back to work,” said Evan Gerberding of DHCD. 

There’s roughly $7 million left from the subsidies available for people who can’t afford rent or utility bills — an emergency net to last families up to three months. The state agency hopes the short term disaster assistance provides some sort of relief. 

In addition to rental and utility assistance, communities like Mendota have ramped up their food distribution.

Mexico trade mission and Ag labor issues – Looking Forward

Source: Karen Ross, California Agriculture Secretary

While in Mexico City last week, Governor Brown met with Secretary Navarrete Prida of the Mexican Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare and signed a letter of intent to address labor rights issues for temporary Mexican workers in California – a matter of high importance, of course, for California’s farmers and ranchers.

Moving forward from that promising development, we are working to create a pilot program than connects at least one California agricultural employer with Mexican officials to establish a set of protocols. Our objective is to help curb migrant worker abuse on a national and international basis, and provide stronger assurances to California agricultural employers that migrant labor employed within a H-2A program are not subject to illegal fees, misrepresentation of employment terms, fraud and other issues.

California, the U.S. Department of Labor, and a network of cross border nongovernmental organizations would work with Mexico to establish a bi-nationally available register of certified labor recruitment agencies. In addition, Mexico would develop a system for monitoring, verifying and supervising the activities carried out by recruitment agencies.

In California, the state would identify agricultural employers that voluntarily commit to using certified recruiters.

In the absence of a national immigration solution, this pilot program can be a great benefit to California’s agricultural community and strengthen our bilateral ties with Mexico.

Commentary: American Dream flourishes in state’s strawberry fields

Source: Lorena Chavez; Ag Alert

For thousands of immigrants to California, the path to the American Dream literally winds its way through the state’s strawberry fields. Perhaps more than any other crop, strawberries are defined by decades of immigrants from Europe, Asia and Mexico.

A report issued earlier this month by the California Strawberry Commission, titled “Growing the American Dream: California Strawberry Farming’s Rich History of Immigrants & Opportunity,” illustrates how many new Americans find that strawberries are a viable ladder to success.

According to the report—which can be found on the Strawberry Commission website at www.californiastrawberries.com—a diverse community of 400 family farmers dominates the state’s strawberry production, which accounts for nearly 90 percent of all the strawberries grown in the United States.

Sixty-five percent of these farmers are Latinos, a quarter of whom worked their way up from field workers to supervisors and eventually owners of their own farms. Another 20 percent are Asian Americans, primarily Japanese and, most recently, Laotians. The remaining 15 percent are comprised of European Americans, with some tracing their ancestry to Gold Rush pioneers.

The story of my father, Luis Chavez, illustrates this immigrant experience. He came to the United States from a small, rural town in Jalisco, Mexico. Born in 1934, he was raised in a home with no electricity or running water. He hasn’t attended a single day of school in his entire life. His family grew corn and beans to survive.

With no money in his pockets, he arrived in California in search of a better life in 1955, as part of the Bracero program. Like generations of immigrants, my father realized that the key to success was hard work. He first worked in a dairy, covering double shifts for 16 years until the family could scrape up enough money to lease an acre to plant strawberries.

While still working their regular jobs, my parents would get up at 4 a.m. every day to tend their plot, slowly building their business. Gradually, they expanded to become L&G Farms. My siblings and I now work side by side with my father to farm 300 acres in Santa Maria, where we employ several hundred people.

This story is not uncommon. But why are so many immigrants drawn to strawberry farming?

Due to their high yield, year-round harvesting and strong consumer demand, strawberries are able to sustain a family on a relatively small parcel of land. The barriers to entry are also favorable to immigrant farmers, because they can afford to lease and not buy their farmland.

With our deep and longstanding immigrant tradition, California strawberry farmers have been highly vocal in advocating for immigration reform. Certainly, we are concerned about the need for a pool of workers to harvest our crops. But more importantly, we share a desire to make sure that future generations of immigrants have the opportunity for the upward mobility that strawberries have provided for our family.

Along with other California strawberry farmers, and even Silicon Valley executives, I have made several trips to Capitol Hill to tell Congress about the critical need for meaningful immigration reform.

While recent election results have stalled efforts, immigration reform should not be postponed indefinitely. And it definitely should not be a partisan matter.

On one of our trips to Capitol Hill, one of my colleagues, a first-generation Mexican-American farmer from Salinas, eagerly sought out a statue of President Ronald Reagan, his hero, who granted amnesty to millions of immigrants. This simple act paved the way for my colleague to become an American citizen, gradually working his way to become a strawberry farmer employing nearly 100 workers. Another American Dream realized.

The commission’s report provides a strong reminder about the sacrifice, pride and contributions made by this nation’s immigrants throughout our history.

It also underscores the fact that immigration reform is as American as, well, strawberries.