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's new minimum wage and labor shortages

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California's New Minimum Wage


California's minimum wage rose from $10.50 to $11 an hour January 1, 2018 for employers with 26 employees or more. These employers will pay at least $15 an hour after January 1, 2022.


Labor Shortages


The California Farm Bureau Federation reported that over half of 760 farm employers responding to a survey experienced labor shortages over the past year, similar to the share reporting labor shortages in 2012. Of those reporting labor shortages, most reported they were up to 20 percent short of the desired number of workers.


Half of the farmers reporting labor shortages increased wages and added benefits and incentives to attract and retain workers, many of whom are aging and reducing their hours of work. A third of farmers used more labor-saving machines, and another 30 percent investigated mechanization. Some farmers reduced their acreage of labor-intensive crops.


Two-thirds of the farmers who responded hired workers directly and half hired workers through Farm Labor Contractors (FLCs); only three percent used the H-2A program to obtain workers. Over half hired five or fewer year-round workers, and almost half hired fewer than 10 seasonal workers.


Lack of labor is spurring mechanization, including vision systems, field robotics and stationery robots. Many efforts aim to reduce the need for seasonal workers to harvest crops.


Assembly Bill 450, effective January 1, 2018, limits the ability of California employers to assist the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement in immigration enforcement. ICE says it will continue to focus on employers who knowingly hire unauthorized workers: "workers encountered during these [ICE] investigations who are unauthorized are also subject to administrative arrest and removal from the country."


ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan in December 2017 promised a fourfold increase in work-site enforcement actions in 2018, to include actions against both employers and unauthorized workers. He said "we've got to get rid of the magnets" for unauthorized migration, especially in so-called sanctuary cities.


AB 450 prohibits employers from allowing "immigration enforcement agents" to enter nonpublic areas of an employer's property without a judicial warrant and from accessing employee records without a subpoena or judicial warrant. California employers will have to post notices of impending I-9 audits, and AB 450 prohibits employers from re-verifying worker documents prior to I-9 audits.


California workers made 94 complaints to the Labor Commissioner in 2017 alleging employer retaliation for their unauthorized status, up from 20 in 2016. Many cases involved wage theft, as when workers did not receive promised wages and were threatened with being reported to ICE if they complained. Migrant advocates say that President Trump's statements have encouraged some employers to threaten unauthorized workers who complain.


This post was published in the most recent Rural Migration News from January 2018.


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} Current and back issues may be accessed at


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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