While the immigration debate rages on in Washington, DC, with little chance for reform in sight, the uncertain labor picture growers have been dealing with doesn’t appear to be getting better anytime soon, writes Frank Giles on GrowingProduce.com. And, even if a grand reform were to be reached, there are larger factors at play that suggest the situation will not improve in the future.
Gary Wishnatzki, Owner of Plant City, FL-based Wish Farms and Co-Founder of Harvest CROO Robotics, says there is a demographic shift that will drive agriculture to innovate and adopt robotics in the future to fill the labor void.
Wishnatzki says he began realizing the labor force was shrinking in the early 2000s when fewer people started showing up to the farm looking for work. That was a big change from the 1980s and 1990s when the labor force was flush and workers had to be turned away from the farm. Traditionally, he says, new arrivals to America have taken the harder labor jobs.
“It has always been the first generation of people who have come to this country who worked in agriculture and were willing to do the hard work that people who had been here a while didn’t want to do,” he says. “Once somebody has been here for a generation, they begin to move on to other jobs.”
Wish Farms has been very involved with sponsoring scholarship programs for the children of farmworkers, because Wishnatzki appreciates that these families want their children to have opportunities beyond picking strawberries.
“We have always depended on these new arrivals, but there are fewer of them now,” he says. “In fact, it now has reversed. In 2015, Pew Research published a paper showing there are more people going back to Mexico than coming into America.”