Produce companies brace for migrant worker drought ahead of harvest season

The Texas agriculture industry is under a labor crunch, with fewer and fewer field workers available to pick produce. This could mean higher prices at the grocery store.

SAN ANTONIO - The Texas agriculture industry is under a labor crunch, with fewer and fewer field workers available to pick produce.

This could mean higher prices at the grocery store.

At a time when the summer heat beats down on field workers, the agriculture industry is taking a beating of its own as it braces for yet another labor drought when harvesting season kicks-off in September.

Dante Galeazzi, the president of the Texas International Produce Association points to a 15-year trend. A shrinking pool of workers in a growing demand for produce.

“We want a legal, reliable workforce that’s here every single year,” Galeazzi said. 

Galeazzi said these are jobs the average American apparently is not willing to take.

“If you have fewer workers, then you have to pay more to those workers, well that cost goes down the chain,” Galeazzi said “That means that produce will have to be sold to the grocery store for more. The grocery store is going to have to sell to the average American consumer for more.”

That is why companies with enough resources, turn to hire migrant workers through the H-2A visa program, which allows for a one-year permit renewable to 3 years, from a pool of 59 countries.

In fact, out the 6,480 requests for H-2A visas in the first two quarters of the fiscal year in 2017, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issued 6,084.

However, the process isn’t that simple, Galeazzi said.

“Right now it’s so bureaucratic, there’s so much red tape, other people in the industry actually need legal teams to come in and show them how to get their applications in to get H-2A workers. Then there’s not guarantee that they get those workers,” Galeazzi said.

At the same time, some Texas produce companies argued foreign workers who usually fill the agricultural jobs is also shrinking. Especially those who come to the U.S. illegally to find work.

A 30-year-old man who spoke to the KENS 5 Border team and asked to conceal his identity, said he’s fearful that authorities will suddenly arrive to round him up while working in the field.

“Law enforcement is doing their job and we understand it,” Galeazzi said. “But as you put that pressure on there and there’s no legal, or viable system to bring workers over, well then you have a problem, right?”

Just as the field laborer’s wishes are to work more freely and have a more secure job, similarly the industry is seeking more liberty to provide that work to keep up with demand. 

Meanwhile, Galeazzi said he will be traveling to Washington D.C. next Tuesday where he's expected to testify on behalf of the agriculture industry and help push for priorities such as immigration reform, trade, and infrastructure before things get too sour.

© 2017 KENS-TV


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