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Labor shortage forcing San Diego-area farmers to downsize

Posted at 6:38 AM, Aug 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-23 11:01:39-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - A crippling labor shortage is forcing San Diego-area farmers to rethink the way they do business.

“We have a real shortage of labor right now,” said Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego Farmers Bureau.

Fallbrook, Pauma Valley, Escondido, Valley Center are all places in San Diego County with vibrant farming communities. They are also struggling to adjust the lack of workers.

“Agriculture is a big important industry in San Diego,” said Larson.

It’s an industry worth $1.8 billion in crops, with a $2.8 billion impact on the local economy.

The lack of workers is forcing the industry in a different direction with smaller acreage and smaller investments.

In San Diego, roughly 16,000 people work in agriculture throughout the year. According to Larson, there’s approximately a 25 percent labor shortage, which he believes is a direct impact of new immigration regulations.

“We have not really had immigration reform that allowed more foreign-born workers to come into this country for a long time, 40 plus years, so what happens is the population of farmworkers has diminished over time, so we have this continuing shortage of labor that gets worse year after year,” Larson said.

This shortage could mean a change you see in the grocery store.

“Consumers won’t see a lack of fruit and vegetables in stores. What they will notice is they are coming from foreign countries,” said Larson.

The solution Larson sees is a new program that makes it easier for guest workers to come into the U.S. to plant and harvest crops. If that doesn’t, happen, he believes the problem will get worse.

“We expect the shortage to get worse over time and have a bigger and bigger impact on agriculture,” said Larson.