In Santa Barbara County, California, crops have rotted in the fields, because no one is willing or able to do the hard work to pick them.
Currently, Santa Barbara County has a labor shortage of 26%. Farmers, therefore, must leave crops to rot in the fields. An estimated $13 million of strawberries, broccoli, leafy greens, and other unharvested produce were plowed under last year, up from five years ago when losses amounted to an estimated $4.3 million.
California farmers are struggling and do not receive government subsidies for mowing unpicked berries and veggies as Midwestern farmers do for destroying wheat or barley. Some area growers have insurance for losses from heat waves or pests but not for lack of workforce.
Five years ago, when Santa Ynez Valley grower Cindy Douglas put a call out for farmworkers on Spanish radio, she got flooded. Not anymore. Now, farmers might have a crew of five one day, and a crew of 20 the next.
Total, there are anywhere from 15,000 to 23,000 agriculture workers in Santa Barbara County, most of whom are from Mexico. The number fluctuates as most crops are picked multiple times a year. A field of strawberries can be harvested two to three times per week for roughly six months. The strawberry crop has grown by 20 percent in acreage in five years, and now it is the county’s number one commodity.
The reason why there are no workers? One of the main reasons is Donald Trump. Under the Trump administration, immigration arrests have surged by nearly 40 percent in three months compared to the same time frame last year, Homeland Security recently reported.
And it’s not like this wasn’t expected. Both Georgia and Alabama have dealt with similar issues in the past after passing anti-immigrant legislation:
Just after taking office that winter, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill that, he vowed, would “crack down on the influx of illegal immigrants into our state.” Known in civil-liberties circles as Georgia’s racial-profiling law, House Bill 87 encouraged local police officers to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of violating any regulation, including traffic rules, and imposed harsh penalties on anyone caught “harboring an illegal alien.” The governor probably didn’t intend for his signature immigration law to cost his state’s farm sector loads of cash. But his timing couldn’t have been worse. A shortfall of 11,000 workers—representing about 85 percent of peak employment—caused $75 million in crop losses that spring alone, with a total hit to the state economy of $103.6 million that season, according to a study by the University of Georgia. Neighboring Alabama passed an even more draconian law later that year, spurring its immigrant farmworkers to exit en masse and costing the state up to 6 percent of its gross domestic product.
But hey Trumpsters, just keep chanting, “Make America Great Again,” and fantasize about building your wall. Your fruit and vegetable prices might skyrocket — and people who would like to do the work will go unemployed.