Fresno, Calif. - Valley farmers are preparing for their busiest time of year, the summer harvest. But this year they are facing a major threat, a shortage of farm workers. In the spring we heard from Valley farmers who said farm workers stopped showing up because they feared deportation. This summer farmers say a consistent work force will be needed more than ever.
Farmers are nervous right now. If there aren't enough farm workers to pick the crops in the next few weeks the produce will spoil and cost farmers millions of dollars and when farmers lose money it's often passed on to us at the grocery store.
"We don't know if we are going to have enough people until the day we start harvesting," said Valley Farmer Joe Del Bosque.
For Valley farmer Joe Del Bosque, the harvest will arrive in a few short weeks. He'll soon know just how bad the labor shortage is.
"If the people aren't there you loose the crop," said Del Bosque.
Having to leave produce in the fields to spoil is a costly loss and would be a major blow to the Central Valley's prominent Ag industry.
Immigration attorney and San Joaquin College of Law instructor Gregory Olson says lawmakers have done nothing to make undocumented workers feel protected from deportation.
"They just don't know what tomorrow is going to bring and when you don't have that type of certainty it makes it hard to go "let's go out in the fields" where traditionally it's been a hot spot for ice to go out and pick people up," said Olson.
Olson says many undocumented workers have taken steps to obtain legal status
"I just know the numbers that I'm seeing coming out and becoming citizens are higher than I've ever seen before," said Olson.
But once they become US citizens going back to the farm is rare.
"Once you have that access to other revenues, other means, other ways to make a living, other ways to pay for your family the fields have less appeal," said Olson.
Bracing for a labor shortage farmers are already competing for the workers available. Del Bosque says lawmakers didn't heed his warning in the spring.
"I mentioned it to one of our Valley congressman that we were starting to plant already and we had basically about 90 days to solve this problem and I haven't seen anything done so far," said Del Bosque.
Farmers on the coast and in Napa Valley are trying to lure farm workers from the Central Valley. In the coming weeks Valley farmers say they aren't only facing the challenges of a labor shortage, but just hanging on to the workers they have now.