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.

Philip Martin

Philip Martin

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.

California had farm sales of $44.7 billion in 2012, led by $6.6 billion Fresno county, $6.2 billion in Kern county, and $6.2 billion in Tulare county.

The leading commodities were milk, worth $6.9 billion in 2012, grapes worth $4.4 billion, almonds worth $4.3 billion, greenhouse and nursery commodities worth $3.5 billion, cattle worth $3.3 billion, strawberries worth $1.9 billion, lettuce worth $1.4 billion, walnuts worth $1.3 billion, and hay and tomatoes each worth $1.2 billion.

Lettuce growers thin fields to ensure full heads of lettuce. Blue River Technology has developed a so-called Lettuce Bot that kills unwanted plants with a squirt of concentrated fertilizer.

The Fresno-based Raisin Bargaining Association, which represents 3,000 growers who produce 90 percent of US raisins, is negotiating a 2013 price with raisin processors. Growers produced 311,000 tons of raisins in 2012 and received $1,900 a ton, up from $1,700 a ton in 2010. The 2013 raisin crop is expected to be larger than in 2012, which has prompted the RBA to propose a lower grower price of $1,700 if the 2013 crop is more than 350,000 tons.

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San Joaquin Valley

The eight-county San Joaquin Valley had four million residents in 2012, a labor force of 1.8 million, and an unemployment rate of 15 percent. There are 62 cities in the 25,000-square mile San Joaquin Valley.

Most San Joaquin Valley counties and cities have economic development agencies to speed the creation of middle-class jobs that pay at least $15 an hour or $30,000 a year. Several types of industries are targeted for "good jobs," including food processing, logistics, manufacturing and renewable energy. Living costs and wages are lower in the San Joaquin Valley than in coastal California, but many San Joaquin Valley workers lack the education needed to perform jobs offering higher wages, which deters some of those looking to relocate from moving their operations to the San Joaquin Valley.

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EEOC

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Washington apple grower Evans Fruit in June 2010 for allowing a ranch manager to sexually harass female workers, and obtained a temporary restraining order to protect class members and potential witnesses from retaliation. After 12 days of testimony, a federal jury in 2013 found no sexually hostile work environment at Evans.

The case against Evans, which employs 1,200 to 1,300 seasonal farm workers, began with a complaint by three women who alleged that they were constructively discharged after supervisors subjected them to "ongoing sexual comments, propositioning, and physical groping." Evans and the ranch manager denied the allegations. A federal judge in April 2013 dismissed a September 2011 EEOC suit against Evans that alleged Evans retaliated against 10 farm workers who attended a meeting at a public library where EEOC representatives explained sexual harassment and the remedies.

PBS's Frontline aired an associated documentary, Rape in the Fields, in June 2013 that profiled the women and the ranch manager in the Evans case.

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July 2013

Economy

The eight-county San Joaquin Valley was the focus of a second economic summit on April 26, 2013.  The briefing book noted the "challenges" of poverty and unemployment, poor air quality, and low scores on other quality of life indicators. These factors combine with too few skilled workers to attract businesses that could help the San Joaquin Valley transform its agricultural economy to a higher-value and higher wage economy.

Average per capita income in the San Joaquin Valley was $31,500 in 2011, only 70 percent of the average $44,600 in California.  Among San Joaquin Valley adults, 30 percent did not graduate from high school and 15 percent had college degrees.  Among Hispanic San Joaquin Valley adults, 48 percent did not graduate from high school and six percent had college degrees.

The San Joaquin Valley summit dealt with the chicken-and-egg problem of stimulating the growth of high-wage jobs.  There is general agreement that the San Joaquin Valley should create more high-wage jobs, but also agreement that high-wage job growth is deterred by  insufficient skilled workers to attract investment that creates jobs that pay more than $30,000 a year.  The summit made only a passing reference to the state's high-speed rail system to be launched in the San Joaquin Valley.

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Housing

It is difficult for farm workers to find affordable housing in coastal counties such as Monterey and Ventura with expanding labor-intensive agricultural sectors.  Strawberry production is increasing.  Most growers hire 1.5 workers for each acre to pick strawberries several times a week during a season that can last several months.
Rents in these metro countries are often $1,200 a month or more for two-bedroom units.  For example, the fair market rent for a two-bedroom unit in Monterey County is $1,223 in 2013, and for Ventura County $1,500 (
www.huduser.org/datasets/fmr.html).  Many farm workers, especially those who are in an area only for seasonal harvests, live with friends and relatives or in converted garages, leading to overcrowding.

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A $110,000 report on housing for Napa farm workers prepared by Bay Area Economics was released March 1, 2013.  It estimated that a peak 7,000 workers are employed in Napa county agriculture.

Interviewers found that 95 percent of the 350 farm workers contacted for the study were born in Mexico, but 54 percent consider Napa County their permanent home. Napa County has farm worker centers in Calistoga, St. Helena and Yountville with a total of 180 beds. The report found that 46 percent of center residents consider the farm worker centers to be their permanent homes and urged that the centers, which are subsidized by a $10 an acre assessment on wine-grape growers who do not provide housing to their workers, be maintained.


After Riverside County cracked down on the informal housing often used by farm workers in the Coachella Valley, a mobile home park known as Duroville opened on land owned by the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian tribe, escaping the county's jurisdiction.

Duroville was soon populated by 4,000 mostly Purepecha Indians from Michoacan who pick table grapes in Coachella and in the San Joaquin Valley. A federal judge in 2009 ordered Duroville to be closed after alternative accommodations were found for residents.  With $28 million in federal, state and local funds, 183 homes for Duroville residents were built in Mountain View Estates.  Mountain View residents pay $425 a month in rent; less than the $450 many paid in Duroville.
 

Desert Hot Springs and Coachella were defined by USDA as rural in 1990, when each had less than 20,000 residents and were not in a metro area.  Today, their populations have grown to 26,000 and 41,000, respectively, and they are no longer eligible for USDA rural housing loans.

 

 

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Recovery in the Valley

California began to recover from the 2008-09 recession in 2012. Employment rose from 16.2 million in January 2012 to 16.5 million in November 2012, and the unemployment rate dropped from 11.3 to 9.8 percent.

In Fresno county, a bellwether for the San Joaquin Valley, the labor force was stable at 441,000 in 2012 but employment rose from 367,000 to 380,000. Fresno's unemployment rate dropped from 17 percent in January 2012 to 14 percent in October 2012.

fresno-county-map

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This post is from Rural Migration News, a publication of rural issues at the University of California at Davis. Rural Migration News summarizes and analyzes the most important migration-related issues affecting immigrant farm workers in the California and the United States during the preceding quarter. This post focuses on labor shortages, and is from the October 2012 issue.

California farmers reported labor shortages in summer and fall 2012. FLC Brad Goehring in San Joaquin county said 2012 is "the worst year that I've ever experienced in labor," with 40 percent fewer workers than desired. Some coastal strawberry growers reported that workers who can earn more harvesting tree fruit are leaving for the San Joaquin Valley, forcing them to scramble for pickers who are quick to jump to other growers who offer higher piece rates or better yields.

Farmer comments demonstrated weak links to seasonal workers. Peach farmers around Marysville, California in July 2012 said: "Usually, each year the migrant workers show up. This year we keep thinking maybe they'll show up tonight, maybe they'll be here tomorrow morning. Nobody's really showing up yet." Growers of cling peaches that are often canned typically pay $16 to $20 per 1,000 pound bin to pick peaches, and say that a "good worker" can pick five to seven bins a day.

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The view a PDF of the report with figures and additional information please click here.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June 2012 upheld the show-me-your-papers provision of Arizona’s SB 1070 law while reaffirming the federal government’s authority over immigration policy making. The Court, which in May 2011 upheld another Arizona law that required all employers to use the Internet-based E-Verify to check the legal status of new hires, may have opened the door for more states to enact laws to crack down on unauthorized foreigners. There is unlikely to be significant federal legislation immigration legislation in 2012 and perhaps not in 2013–14.

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The Great Valley Center released a report on the air, land and water in the San Joaquin Valley in July 2012 that emphasized the need to further improve air quality, preserve and enlarge water resources, and adopt green technologies to support sustainable San Joaquin Valley growth. San Joaquin Valley air quality is improving, but the "easy" or less costly reductions in emissions have already been made.

The report analyzed grant programs that subsidized the replacement of older cars and tractors with newer ones, but did not analyze whether subsidized replacement programs were the best way to use limited tax monies to improve San Joaquin Valley air quality.

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Farm_Labor_2

Farm Labor

The shortage of farm labor is an issue that California farmers have complained about this summer. Leaders from the California Farm Bureau said, “farmers are telling us that the workers they usually see in the spring just didn't show up this year. We're just not seeing the number of people we (usually) see this time of year."

Manuel Cunha of the Nisei Farmers League predicted that labor shortages could reach 80,000 of the peak of 250,000 workers that are employed in California's San Joaquin Valley, which Cunha says is similar to the  "worker shortage" of 1998. Cunha said that many farmworker crews were 10 to 15 percent smaller than the usual 20 to 30 workers.

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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.

                                                Farm 

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The information in this post is from Rural Migration News, a publication on rural issues at University of California, Davis. Rural Migration News summarizes and analyzes the most important migration-related issues affecting immigrant farm workers in California and the United States during the preceding quarter.  This post focuses on poverty, water, labor shortages, health and current state laws.

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How would US fresh fruit and vegetable producers respond to higher labor costs?  Case studies suggest that there would be labor-saving mechanization in commodities such as raisin grapes and higher prices in strawberries.  Weather is the single most important factor affecting fresh fruit and vegetable trade, but labor and transportation costs also shape trade patterns.  Affluence created a demand for fresh fruits and vegetables year-round, and new seeds and better storage enabled producers to supply commodities year round.  Rising wages can prompt labor-saving mechanization instead of rising imports.  Vegetables are far more mechanized than fruits— about 75 percent of US vegetable and melon tonnage is machine harvested, but less than half of the fruit tonnage.  There was significant interest in mechanization in the 1960s and 1970s, when the end of the Bracero program and the rise of unions led to rapid increases in farm wages.


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