A Shortage of Mexican Laborers Threatens Arizona Farming

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Gonzalez was counting on a larger group of workers until the underground fungus claimed half of his crop. Also, H-2A workers must be paid special rates, provided housing and transportation, and guaranteed a certain number of hours specified by a contract.

There are also costly delays that result in workers arriving days or weeks after they're needed, industry leaders report. Produce rots in the fields. Anticipating a continued shortage of workers, farmers plant fewer crops. It cuts into a farmer's already slim profit margins and threatens a farm's viability.

It also creates an economic ripple across industries that support the farming industry: food processing and packaging plants, manufacturers of boxes, pallets, and bags used to transport the food.

At G Farms, workers in the processing plant sat around waiting for the first haul of watermelons to come in. But they only trickled in to the normally busy plant.

"Usually, this thing is packed, but we just don't have it this year," Gonzalez says.

Plant workers like Israel Ramirez sit on the ground or on the edge of the thick cardboard boxes, in which dozens of watermelons are packed and loaded onto a truck en route to California.

"It's slow today," he says, disappointment clear in his voice. "But we hope next week will be better."

Gonzalez says he can't understand why U.S. politicians do not, and have not, created a system that would allow farmers here to expand operations, to easily hire workers, and avoid being dependent on other countries for such a basic necessity — food.

"The farming is so beautiful," Gonzalez says. "But the stress and the disappointments are so big. We just keep hoping for better laws, and that fields will do better. We do a lot of praying."

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Monica Alonzo
Contact: Monica Alonzo