Produce Growers: If we don’t have the labor, consumers will be impacted

The owner of a produce operation in Texas is voicing his support for the Farm Workforce Modernization Act and calling on the Senate to act.

Little Bear Produce, a grower-packer-shipper from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas grows various food crops. Executive Vice President, Bret Erickson says an operation like that requires hundreds of workers each year.

“At the peak of our season between harvesting on the farm and packing the product in the shed and getting it into the warehouses and out the back door and on the trucks, Little Bear Produce is probably employing close to 1,000 people directly or through the contractors. The labor challenge for us is tight in the field and it’s tight in the packing sheds, and I foresee us utilizing H-2A in a really big way going in the future,” said Erickson.

However, concerns surrounding the H-2A labor program have grown with some calling for major reforms to help lower the cost of labor, and in turn, food.

“We’ve seen this coming a long, long, long time ago. The cost of using H-2A, it’s ridiculous. It is a very burdensome, cumbersome program to use. Unfortunately, it has become the only tool that we have available to us. Companies like ours, we continually are looking outside the borders of the United States to expand our growing programs because we can’t afford the labor we need, we don’t have the labor we need here, and that’s why you see so many of the produce companies have an international footprint now.”

They warn consumers will continue to feel impacts from a lack of labor throughout the supply chain.

“If we don’t have labor, it’s going to impact you by driving up the cost of your fresh produce and the availability of your fresh produce. You’re not going to be able to get everything that you’re used to seeing because we’re not going to have the labor. From a broad perspective as a population, the United States should be very concerned about nutrition security and where our food is coming from because currently, the rise in imports is happening drastically. Producers in the United States are struggling to stay in business and closing up shops.”

Erickson says the Farm Workforce Modernization Act could help.

“We need help on this. This is the biggest threat to our business and to our livelihoods, being able to secure the labor. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act has already been passed out of the House. It is now on the Senate side being worked on by Senators Crapo and Bennett. It needs to be put forward for a vote, and we need our senators to support American fruit and vegetable producers and pass that bill.”

Erickson, like many producers we have spoken to, encourages producers to stay engaged and contact their senators if they support the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.

As of this month, citizens from 86 countries are now eligible for H-2A visas for ag work. Those in opposition to the bill, like the Food Chain Workers Alliance, worry it could actually increase immigration enforcement and do more harm than good for the workers themselves.