Reporting Ian Schwartz
STOCKTON (CBS13) – The good news for farm workers is there’s plenty of work in the fields, but the bad news for farmers is there are not enough workers coming around.
There are asparagus crops that are ready to go, but there aren’t enough people to pick them fast enough this year.
“It’s getting worse every year. All my friends in the business are pretty concerned,” said Zukerman’s Farm manager George Biagi.
Like many other farms in the Central Valley, Zuckerman’s Farm near Stockton relies on documented migrant workers. Usually by April 70 people will be picking their asparagus stalks, but so far this year only about 40 have returned.
Biagi thinks tighter immigration crackdowns are keeping workers from trying to get jobs across the border. New farming opportunities in Mexico also have farm hands working closer to home.
Asparagus needs to be picked at just the right time, but if you don’t have enough workers to pick it fast enough it will continue to grow and flower out. Biagi says that just won’t sell.
“So if you got stuff that is 18 inches in size because you couldn’t cut it in time, that’s lost revenue, lost production,” he said.
Despite unemployment rates falling across California and the nation — the most recent statistics show fewer than 8 percent of Americans and 9.8 percent of Californians are without jobs — Biagi says many Californians won’t take these farm jobs. He’s tried to recruit with newspaper ads.
“It’s really backbreaking; I mean, it’s really difficult work,” said Biagi.
He says if migrant workers are the only ones willing to work these fields, then a guest worker program is the best solution.
“I think that is the only way this industry will survive, or any industry that is overly dependent on migrant workers or laborers,” Biagi said.
Biagi says he used to grow asparagus until June, but now only goes until mid-May since there aren’t enough people to get the job done.