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  • Help Wanted: Lettuce Pickers in Arizona

    Immigration law threatens Ariz. lettuce harvest

    Companies could lose business licenses

    By BETTY BEARD, The Arizona Republic

    Posted Sunday, January 6, 2008

    Christopher Ruiz cuts lettuce in a Salyer American field near Yuma, Ariz., where growers are having a difficult time attracting seasonal workers this year because of immigration laws. There is talk of planting more in Mexico.

    The Arizona Republic/JACK KURTZ
    YUMA, Ariz. -- A new Arizona law that takes effect Tuesday -- at the peak of the lettuce harvest -- could devastate the Yuma-area produce industry, which fills 80 percent to 90 percent of the country's salad bowls from November through April every year.

    The law threatens to take business licenses from companies caught twice knowingly hiring undocumented workers.

    Yuma-area farmers, who say they only hire documented help, don't know if the law will flush out hundreds of laborers whose documents are false, or if it will have no effect.

    What they do know is that they need an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 workers a day. Labor has been a problem for years, the situation continues to get tighter, and the law will not help, they say.

    Growers say that the worker shortage has been worsening because of immigration checks and because the work force is aging.

    Farmers have been responding in a variety of ways: Planting less in Yuma County, paying more -- up to $15 to $18 an hour this season -- and keeping workers in the fields for longer hours. They also are turning, reluctantly, to a cumbersome federal program called H-2A that helps them hire foreign workers legally.

    Talk grows of planting more in Mexico.

    Last year, growers estimated a 20 percent to 30 percent shortage of workers, according to Paul Simonds, spokesman for the Western Growers Association, an agricultural trade group.

    John Boelts, a vegetable grower and president of the Yuma County Farm Bureau, said the labor shortage drove up lettuce prices a couple of dollars a carton.

    Grower C.R. Waters said labor is tight again this year.

    In response to the sanctions law, growers say all they can do is enroll in E-Verify, a free online federal program that checks names and identification documents to ensure that new employees are eligible to work, and check and re-check documents.

    Waters said, "I don't know of anyone who knowingly hires illegals. Having said that, there are pretty good false documents. You have to accept them at face value. If you question them, you are guilty of discrimination."

    Graciella Villarreal, 31, a Yuma resident who has been cutting lettuce for seven years, believes the law will have a big effect on the economy and leave lettuce uncut in the fields. Workers have been talking about the law, she said.

    "There's a lot of people without documents," she said.

    Under this cloud of uncertainty, the harvest began as usual in mid-November.

    Dozens of buses deliver Mexican-American and Mexican workers daily to the fields of lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and other produce spread throughout the communities of Yuma, Somerton and San Luis.

    Workers generally live in the Yuma area or in San Luis, Mexico. They may be U.S. citizens who live in Yuma or Mexico, or non-citizens with work visas known as green cards. Or they may have false documents.

    The work has been mechanized to a degree, but men and women constantly bend up and down to select and cut the lettuce heads. They grab a plastic bag from a bundle attached to their waists, wrap the lettuce and place it on a waist-high conveyor belt where other workers box the produce. The lettuce won't be touched again until it arrives at the grocery store or other business.

    The bulk of Arizona's products go to the East Coast.

  • #2
    Guest-Worker Debate: Human or Mechanical Labor?
    by Carrie Kahn

    Listen Now [4 min 44 sec] add to playlist

    Morning Edition, April 23, 2007 · American farmers, fretting over a shortage of workers as immigrant labor becomes harder to find, are being pushed to give mechanization greater consideration.

    Even as thousands of Mexican workers push through turnstiles at the San Luis, Ariz., border station to pick winter lettuce crops in Yuma, Ariz., farmers still don't have a sufficient workforce.

    "Not a lot of people realize it but on an average day during this time of the year this port processes between 25,000 and 30,000 people a day," says port director William Brooks.

    Once past the border agents, workers walk to waiting buses or pick up day work in front of a local convenience store.

    Labor contractor Jose Campos, who is at the convenience store grabbing a quick cup of coffee, says despite being so close to Mexico he can't find enough workers.

    "It's a big problem. To properly work a lettuce harvester you need 26 guys, I've only been able to bring them eight or nine," says Campos.

    Economists say farmers should stop complaining and find machines to do the work.

    But lettuce worker Jesus Mitra scoffs at the idea.

    "You want a machine to do this instead of a person. There's no such thing, it hasn't been invented yet," Mitra says. "You have to have a person do it."

    Or do you?

    Agricultural economist Philip Martin doesn't think so. He says when labor is tight, wages rise and that pushes farmers to invest in mechanization.

    "We certainly saw that in the 1970s when unions pushed up wages. That was a real decade of mechanization," says Martin.

    But by the 1980s, he recalls, the Mexico peso plunged, labor was once again abundant and sanctions against employers hiring illegal workers were minimal.

    "By not enforcing the immigration laws the government is sending a signal to farmers that by hiring unauthorized workers they do not have to make a transition to a more mechanized, higher productive agriculture "” at least not right now," adds Martin.

    But Manuel Cunha, who heads a farmers' group in Fresno, Calif., says mechanization can't solve all of agriculture's labor woes, especially for farmers who grow perishable crops like strawberries and tree fruits.

    "If we don't care about how a fresh peach looks or taste that may be a different issue," he says.

    Cunha wants Congress to pass the so-called Ag Jobs bill that would create a special guest worker program for agricultural workers.

    He recognizes that farmers are mechanizing, but it will take time.

    Fresno raisin farmer Trent Hammond isn't waiting for Congress to act.

    In his work shed on his family's raisin-grape vineyard, he pulls out huge rolls of paper that will be used to dry the grapes into raisins. Traditionally this is hard work that must be done by hand. In fact, raisins are the most labor intensive crop in North America. It takes 60,000 farm hands to work the four-week harvest in late summer.

    Still, Hammond is looking for ways to replace almost all his workers with machines.

    On his 43-acre plot he ripped out all of his old vines and is getting ready to plant new ones. These vines will grow straight out of the ground, leaving enough room for a machine to come through the rows.

    "We are putting in stakes. We have about 15,000 cross arms, and we still have 28,000 vines we have to put in," he says.

    And Hammond says once all the work is done, he will need only three field hands instead of 40.

    Martin, the economist, says farmers have to move in that direction if they're going to compete with countries like Turkey and China.

    "The ultimate goal is if we are going to have a competitive agriculture 20 years hence we have to compete on something other than wages," he says.

    Though he concedes that to do that U.S. agriculture will look a lot different in the next two decades.

    It will consist of larger mechanized fields and less small-time family farms.

    Mechanization has already proven to be worth the investment and far more profitable than cheap labor and far less burdensome for America and her taxpayers. Not to mention machines don't urinate on our produce and spread ecoli.

    Total mechanization will also eliminate the hassle, stress and negative consequences that result from importing 3rd world, 3rd grade educated illegal alien criminals from south of the border, who often bring crime, disease and their wives/girl friends who then proceed to populate the US with defacto American citizens in order usurp the 14th amendment create future chain migration, abuse our welfare and social systems, and create even more of a financial burden on US taxpayers. US farmers are ALREADY abusing an abundance of tax payer SUBSIDIES, some of whom have become abundantly wealthy by doing so.

    Problem solved.
    Wolves Travel In Packs


    • #3
      Deceased Farmers Got USDA Payments
      Study Faults Lack Of Case Reviews

      By Sarah Cohen
      Washington Post Staff Writer
      Monday, July 23, 2007; Page A01

      The U.S. Department of Agriculture distributed $1.1 billion over seven years to the estates or companies of deceased farmers and routinely failed to conduct reviews required to ensure that the payments were properly made, according to a government report.

      In a selection of 181 cases from 1999 to 2005, the Government Accountability Office found that officials approved payments without any review 40 percent of the time.

      The report cited a 1,900-acre soybean and corn farm in Illinois that collected $400,000 on behalf of an owner who lived in Florida before his death in 1995. The company did not notify the government of the death but certified each year that the dead shareholder, who owned 40 percent of the company, was "actively engaged" in managing the farm.

      Most estates are allowed to collect farm payments for up to two years after an owner's death, giving heirs time to restructure their businesses and probate the will. After that, local USDA officials must certify every year that the estate is still farming and has remained open for reasons other than simply collecting subsidies.

      But the GAO report found that the Agriculture Department depends on heirs and businesses to alert the agency to deaths and does not use other sources, such as Social Security records, to confirm eligibility. The report was prepared at the request of Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), a frequent critic of large subsidies to wealthy farms. It is expected to be publicly released Tuesday at a Senate Finance Committee hearing.

      "Farm payments are meant for those who need some help getting through the tough times," Grassley said last week. "Clearly there are loopholes that should be closed and laws that need to be followed."

      In a letter responding to the GAO report, the Agriculture Department said that the payments were not necessarily examples of fraud or abuse and that auditors did not prove any specific cases of cheating. The department's field offices defended the practice of routinely paying dead farmers' estates without fully investigating the claims, citing staff shortages and competing priorities. The agency also said that any overpayments would amount to less than 1 percent of farm subsidies paid between 1999 and 2005.

      GAO auditors found that in addition to the 40 percent of cases not reviewed by the USDA, 38 percent had "weaknesses," including "nonexistent or vague" documentation. The GAO said it could not determine from its examination whether the government improperly overpaid the estates or how much any excess might be.

      An Indiana corporation that was owned entirely by one person never notified the government of the owner's death in 1993 and continued to collect unspecified payments for a decade before new owners filed for farm benefits. The government made $567,000 in payments to an Alabama estate over seven years on behalf of an owner who died in 1981. Another estate continued to receive unspecified payments on behalf of a person who died in 1973 -- more than three decades ago -- without any investigation or review.

      The GAO said it found that five executors of estates had simply told the government they wanted to keep the estates open, without further explanation. Local officials in one Georgia county, in one action during a routine meeting without any investigation, approved payments for 107 people who had died more than two years earlier. GAO auditors found 10 additional cases in which subsidies were "approved for payments without any indication that even a cursory review had been conducted."

      Making database checks against a list of people reported as dead to the Social Security Administration "to verify that an individual receiving farm payments has not died is a simple, cost-effective method," the GAO said. The Agriculture Department said it has asked all field offices to review the eligibility of estates and plans to begin conducting database checks.

      The GAO report said that, in some cases, people who had reached the annual limit on farm subsidies of $360,000 to an individual were able to collect additional money as a beneficiary of an estate.

      In its response, the Agriculture Department acknowledged that large farming operations, often formed by members of an extended family, could exceed the payment limits by keeping an estate active years after a death.

      The report follows a 2004 GAO study for Grassley highlighting loopholes in the payment limits. That report found that large farming operations, organized into webs of partnerships and corporations, can legally collect far more than the $360,000 limit. More than two-thirds of the $1.1 billion in payments to estates and companies of dead people went through such entities.

      Grassley plans to ask the Internal Revenue Service to investigate whether corporations and partnerships that do not inform farm programs of deaths are paying enough in taxes. Estates are taxed at a higher rate than some businesses. The senator also wants to know whether the IRS was similarly unaware of the deaths.

      Grassley said that "those who might be willing to game the USDA and the federal Treasury" would get an unfair tax advantage.

      Last year, a Washington Post investigation of farm subsidies found more than $15 billion in wasteful or redundant spending in other farm payments, including $1.3 billion to people who do not farm and $817 million to farms that use loopholes to exceed limits.

      Wolves Travel In Packs


      • #4
        Note that at the beginning the original article, the farmers were 'forced to resort the the H2A program" (the LEGAL one)...which means they are perfectly content to hire illegals, in spite of their rhetoric to the contrary.


        • #5
          I wonder if they have tried paying a living wage.

          Just a thought.


          • #6
            Davdah - get real. You're not going to work bent over in a field for $18 per hour! How many USC's are? There are too many other jobs out there that we are qualified for!!!!!!!!! That is back breaking labor, face it. Americans are extremely lazy and content with their cushy 9 - 5 office jobs.


            • #7
              Originally posted by davdah:
              I bet if the word got out to the general populace about 18.00 an hour jobs they woulnd't even have to use the H-2 visas. Most people outside the loop assume they work for 18.00 a day, not per hour. I think that qualifies as a living wage in Arizona.
              Agreed. First and foremost the illegal aliens here from Mexico have little to no education (for most 3rd grade is the highest level), are poverty stricken and working on average 12 hours a day for $2.00 a day in Mexico. Therefore, $2 an hour in the US is the equivalent of hitting the lotto for them. They pay ZERO taxes; we pay for their healthcare, the education of their children, and many also receive some form of government subsidies.

              People with little to no education in any society do menial labor because that's all they are qualified to do. That being said:

              With regards to Visas and citizenship illegal aliens from south of the border, South America and many other 3rd world countries, DO NOT have the skills to meet US requirements to enter the US legally which is why they come here illegally, an act that corporate America depends on to suppress American wages and increase their profits.

              They are not employable in corporate America and DO NOT QUALIFY for anything but menial jobs. Those who have bootleg construction or handyman skills abandon the fields as soon as opportunity presents itself, thus perpetuating the cyle of crooked farmers whining about needing more low skilled illegal alien labor.

              At the end of the day, illegal aliens don't want to do the jobs "Americans won't do" either. Working the fields is a means to an end for them just as it was for uneducated Americans hundreds of years ago. The myth that they are just hard working people is exactly that. Illegals are no different than any other group of uneducated people who are limited by their lack of education, inability or lack of qualifications to do anything other than work in fields, clean tables, sling fast food, etc. Nor do they work any harder than any other group of people who have no education or skills.
              Wolves Travel In Packs


              • #8
                Originally posted by davdah:
                Not everyone works in an office. There are many people who never finished highschool that may take those jobs. It would beat working at McDonalds for minimum wage. It may be back breaking but I bet an American would figure out a way to make it not so back breaking.
                Bull . . . cough!!!!!! Americans haven't done this type of work in so many years, there aren't many who would even leave their McDonald's jobs, for higher pay, to go work in the fields. Reality, Davdah, reality!!!!


                • #9
                  go back to your cage monkey a s s


                  • #10
                    Where I am $10 an hour is considered normal, and that is for USC's.

                    Hence not many illegals.

                    There would be a long line for $18.


                    • #11
                      Ditto here Theone.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by davdah:
                        Economics 101, Hudson take note. They increased wages and 'reluctantly' used the H2 program. Why? Its the same old issue. They were underpaying illegals only because they were illegal.
                        Not that simple Davdah. Technology, ie the use of mechanized equipment, will decrease the number of jobs available in a labor pool that is now being diminished because of political factors. In the short run, costs will increase to the producers and wages might be increased because new job elements are now being added. However, not all farms will be able to survive in the market either by obtaining the capital or that it is too costly to continue the business. Thus, consolidation will occur in the market either by farm foreclosures, consolidations with existing farms, and simply shutting the doors. Most at risk will be the small family farms that will have a hard time obtaining the capital needed to continue the business. In the long run, real wages will not increase all that much because monetary policies and fiscal policies. But costs will rise to both the producer and to the ocnsumer. You have now created inflation
                        "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence." John Adams on Defense of the boston Massacre


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by davdah:
                          Not everyone works in an office. There are many people who never finished highschool that may take those jobs. It would beat working at McDonalds for minimum wage. It may be back breaking but I bet an American would figure out a way to make it not so back breaking.
                          And suppliers, ie the grocery stores and food warehouses, will find it more economically beneficial to import those same food products than to purchase the home grown fruits and vegetables. The reason, consumers will not be able to afford the higher food prices from American food growers; they will demand alternatives. Why do you think GM, United, and Delta are facing those financial hardshipss?
                          "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence." John Adams on Defense of the boston Massacre


                          • #14
                            With the increased gas prices and the need to conserve, I think it is more likely that the US Supermarkets will need to move more to suplying from local sources, not shiping over enormous distances.

                            The trend is allready there in many other countries, it can only be a question of time before the US catches up.

                            GM is mainly down to bad management, Toyota for example, number 2 now, can manfacture in the US quite profitably.

                            United and Delta, well you could also name any other major carrier of their type from anywhere else in the world. Nature of the industry. The succesful players have a different business model, not nationality.


                            • #15
                              Robots May Become Essential on US Farms

                              With authorities promising tighter borders, some farmers who rely on immigrant labor are eyeing an emerging generation of fruit-picking robots and high-tech tractors to do everything from pluck premium wine grapes to clean and core lettuce.

                              Such machines, now in various stages of development, could become essential for harvesting delicate fruits and vegetables that are still picked by hand.

                              No hidden or trial offers, and no purchase necessary. Publications are absolutely free to those who qualify. "If we want to maintain our current agriculture here in California, that's where mechanization comes in," said Jack King, national affairs manager for the California Farm Bureau.

                              California harvests about half the nation's fruits, nuts and vegetables, according to the state Food and Agriculture Department. The California Farm Bureau Federation estimates that the job requires about 225,000 workers year-round and double that during the peak summer season. More than half of all farm workers in the country are illegal immigrants, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics.

                              Last year, amid heightened immigration enforcement, California's seasonal migration was marked by spot worker shortages, and some fruit was left to rot in the fields. "There's a lot of very nervous people out there in agriculture in terms of what's going to be available in the labor force," said Robert Wample, viticulture and enology program director at California State University, Fresno.

                              Mechanized picking wouldn't be new for some California crops such as canning tomatoes, low-grade wine grapes and nuts. But the fresh produce that dominates the state's agricultural output - and that consumers expect to find unblemished in supermarkets - is too fragile to be picked by the machines now in use.

                              The new pickers rely on advances in computing power and hydraulics that can make robotic limbs and digits operate with near-human sensitivity. Modern imaging technology also enables the machines to recognize and sort fruits and vegetables of varying qualities.

                              "The technology is maturing just at the right time to allow us to do this kind of work economically," said Derek Morikawa, whose San Diego-based Vision Robotics has been working with the California Citrus Research Board and Washington State Apple Commission to develop a fruit picker.

                              The process involves sending a mechanized scanning unit into orchards and orange groves. Equipped with digital-imaging technology, it creates a three-dimensional map displaying the location, ripeness and quality of fruit. A robotic picker then follows the maps, using its long mechanical arms to carefully pluck the ripe produce.

                              A prototype was tested last month, but it is still a few years from being ready for widespread commercial use, said Ted Batkin, a grower and president of the citrus board. A set of scanning and harvesting units will likely cost about $500,000 when the equipment reaches market, Morikawa said.

                              Elsewhere, a team led by wine specialists at California State University, Fresno, is working on an automated picker to further mechanize the wine-grape business. Growers of low- and mid-grade wine grapes already use mechanical harvesters, but picking and sorting premium grapes still requires a human touch.

                              The new technology includes a device called a near-infrared spectrometer, which measures the sugar levels and chemical content of grape samples before they are picked, Wample said. The data is then plotted to a global positioning system map, which a mechanical harvester uses to navigate the vineyards and pluck specific bunches at ideal ripeness.

                              The system has been under development for the past four years and is being tested in vineyards. The approximate cost of the two components is $230,000. Salinas Valley-based Ramsay Highlander sells machines that partially automate lettuce picking by using band saws or water knives to cut the lettuce from the earth and convey it into bins for cleaning and processing.

                              The company is nearing completion on a new model that picks, cleans, cores and packs lettuce and other greens, chief executive Frank Maconachy said. It will likely cost between $250,000 and $400,000, he said. "Because of the immigration issue, migrant workers are becoming a difficult entity to find," Maconachy said. "If growers have a crop that needs to be harvested and there aren't the people to do it, they'll need to find a mechanized way to do it."

                              Philip Martin, an agricultural economist at the University of California, Davis, said it was still unclear if heightened immigration enforcement would drive away enough workers to justify huge expenditures by growers on new machinery. And the number of variables involved makes it difficult to determine how much, if anything, growers could save by switching to automated systems.

                              But some growers are excited by the prospect of having robots and a few trained technicians who know how to operate them replace the droves of manual laborers they currently depend on. "It will open up a lot of opportunity for better paying jobs in the agriculture industry and perhaps get us out of the mentality that being a farm worker is a dirty job," said Batkin, the citrus farmer.


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