On a flight from California to San Antonio to attend the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Convention, I pondered the challenges that lie ahead for agriculture. I also looked forward to hearing about the concerns of other farmers and ranchers from across this great nation.
Now, some may wonder why I pondered this question when I am from California. Many people are unaware that California is the largest agriculture-producing state in the United States as well as one of the largest employers. Large enough that if California were its own country, we would be the third-largest ag producing country in the world. The fabulous weather, versatility of the state, access to water, and the fertile soils are some reasons why agriculture is successful. However, the roads to success doesn’t come without challenges.
Recently other parts of the nation have been experiencing inclement weather. Californians have been basking in the 60-80 degree weather the past few months. Although I have been enjoying working in the yard catching some rays, our state is in dire need of water. Farmers and ranchers are currently trying to plan for the upcoming season by budgeting for the drought that we will incur. Many growers who have tree and nut crops are already seeing blooms on their trees and it’s only January. Now they are hoping that the cold weather doesn’t decide to visit us in the coming months otherwise they could be at a loss due the blooms freezing and not producing product.
Another great challenge is immigration reform. Being right on the border to Mexico we are heavily invested in pushing the federal government into creating a workable plan that allows access to employees and creates benefit for the employees as well as the industry.
Due to the fabulous weather in California we were able to harvest strawberries all the way into the beginning of December, which is rare. There was a vast amount of fruit that available however much of it was left on the vines due to the lack of employees to help harvest and get the product to market. Not only were we not able to fully meet the demand of the consumers but also saw a loss of profitability. Many times profitability for farmers only comes when you are able to extend your production and capture those rare moments when you can harvest more product than planned or extend production into a high demand market.
The industry now is trying to gamble on the accessibility of labor and the consumer demand for product for the coming year and trying to make production decisions based on speculation. Many commodities and farmers are going to take a hit, thus decreasing supply and increasing food costs. This is not only a gamble that will affect production numbers but it will also affect the quality of production. Growers are having to make concessions with their employees just to keep them employed with their company.