The San Joaquin Valley is the agricultural powerhouse of the United States and California. California accounts for an eighth of U.S. farm sales, largely because it produces high value fruit and nut, vegetable and melon, and horticultural specialty (FVH) crops such as nursery products and flowers. Over three-fourths of the state's $37 billion in farm sales in 2010 were crop commodities, and almost 90 percent of the $28 billion in California crop sales represented labor-intensive FVH commodities.

About half of California's farm sales and farm employment are produced in the eight-county San Joaquin Valley with four million residents that stretches from Stockton in the north to Bakersfield in the south. The leading U.S. farm county is Fresno, which had farm sales of almost $6 billion in 2010.

California minimum wage and aging farmworkers

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California enacted a law in 2016 (SB 3) raising the minimum wage from $10 to $15 an hour by 2022 and requiring farmers to pay 8/40 overtime (AB 1066), that is, 1.5 times normal wages after eight hours a day and 40 hours a week by 2022 (employers with 25 or fewer employees have extra time to comply). The state's minimum wage went to $10.50 an hour on January 1, 2017.

Western Growers surveyed its members in November 2016, and 150 growers reported that they plan to increase mechanization (77 percent) and reduce production of labor-intensive crops in California (33 percent), including 60 growers who hired fewer than 100 workers at peak.

Responding growers reported that their employees worked an average 9.6 hours a day and 56 hours a week at $12.40 an hour, suggesting 5.5 day workweeks. Instead of paying overtime wages, most farms said they will reduce hours to 8/40, so that workers would be employed 16 fewer hours a week. A third of respondents said they would reduce benefits provided to farmworkers because of higher minimum wages and 8/40 overtime by having employees contribute more for heath insurance or reduce employer 401K and retirement contributions.

AB 1513 required California farmers to pay piece-rate workers at their average hourly earnings for mandatory rest periods and other nonproductive time. It also provided a "safe harbor" for employers who compensated their workers for unpaid rest periods before December 15, 2016.

However, Fowler Packing and Gerawan Farming were excluded from the safe harbor provision. They sued, and in December 2016 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed that they and Delano Farms were unlawfully excluded at the behest of the UFW, violating the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The Associated Press reported in December 2016 that at least 38 farmworkers were killed and 200 injured in 2015 and 2016 in transportation accidents, including H-2A orange pickers employed by Vasquez Citrus & Hauling of Lake Placid, Florida. On September 17, 1963, 32 of the 58 Bracero workers riding in a truck that had been converted into a bus were killed when a train struck them in Chualar, California, prompting Congress to enact a law requiring contractors who transport workers to provide proof of liability insurance.

In California, contractor Cecilio Arredondo Terrazas of C.A.T. Labor Services was charged by the Department of Labor with offering unlicensed transportation when a CAT foreman crashed a van January 9, 2015 and left four farmworkers dead. Terrazas says that he does not transport farmworkers, and the foreman was acting on his own when he charged workers for rides. Similarly, when DOL ordered Valley Garlic Inc. and contractor X-Treme Ag Labor Inc to have vehicles insured after a June 20, 2015 crash that left four workers dead, Valley Garlic said that X-Treme was solely responsible for worker transportation.

Aging workforce 

California farmworkers are aging. Taylor Farms' Albert Garnica says that the average age of Taylor's 1,500 workers is 48, while Arizona's Pasquinelli Produce says that 60 percent of the workers on its 9,000-acre farm that grows cauliflower and celery are over 50.

Data from 336 farmworkers, 85 percent born in Mexico, were collected in 2013-14 in Central California, including 170 women. Less than 20 percent completed high school, and over 40 percent of the men and 55 percent of the women understood spoken English. The average age of interviewed workers was 38, and three-fourths were married with an average two children. The average time in the U.S. was 21 years, suggesting arrival in the early 1990s at age 18 or 19.

Over half reported family incomes under $33,000 a year, but over 60 percent reported receiving means-tested welfare benefits. Two-thirds of men and women reported having health insurance; a third said they had not seen a doctor in the previous two years. Over 10 percent of those interviewed had family incomes above $54,000 a year.

Farm work requires physical exertion, and a combination of hard work and low income suggest that farmworkers are more likely to be thin than fat. However, 80 percent of the workers interviewed were overweight or obese; the average BMI of the workers interviewed was 29 for both men and women, and a third had BMI's over 30, signaling obesity. Nonetheless, two-thirds or more of the workers believed their weight was average.

This post is an excerpt of the most recent Rural Migration News published in January 2017.

Rural Migration News summarizes the most important migration-related issues affecting agriculture and rural America. Topics are grouped by category: Rural America, Farm Workers, Immigration, Other and Resources.

 

There are two editions of Rural Migration News. The paper edition has about 10,000 words and the email version about 20,000 words.

 

Distribution is by email. If you wish to subscribe, send your email address to ruralmigrationnews-subscribe [at} primal.ucdavis.edu. Current and back issues may be accessed at http://migration.ucdavis.edu.

 

The paper edition is available by mail for $30 domestic and $50 foreign for one year and $55 and $95 for a two-year subscription. Make checks payable to Migration Dialogue and send to: Philip Martin, Department of Ag and Resource Economics, University of California, Davis, California 95616 USA.

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Philip Martin is Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California- Davis, chair of the University of California's Comparative Immigration and Integration Program, and editor of the monthly Migration News and the quarterly Rural Migration News.

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