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Texas growers are facing severe labor issues

MISSION, TX— Texas’ fruit and vegetable producers have continued to explore new products and varieties, but overall the state has maintained similar acreage for several years.Mex-cuke-plants

The question of growth swings on the availability of labor, according to Dante Galeazzi, the president and chief executive officer of the Texas International Produce Association.

Texas traditionally had a strong domestic and day-crosser work force (Mexican citizens who would cross back-and-forth in the border regions of Texas to work in agriculture).

“But very recently — primarily in the last five years — we’ve had very serious problems. Growers have had a limited ability to expand, centered around not having enough labor,” Galeazzi said. “That’s been the case in west Texas and central Texas for nearly a decade. But in south Texas, this is somewhat of a new phenomenon.”

With their backs against the wall, growers are now “dipping their toes” into the use of a H-2A workforce, he said. “A few growers are taking on H-2A crews. We anticipate that will expand again this year, as it has on the national level.”

These “are not necessarily Mexican citizens. Many likely would be from Mexico, but there would be more from Central America: Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. These people are starting to participate in bigger numbers throughout the country.”

Galeazzi said the minimum wage in Texas is $7.50 per hour. “The AEWR for H-2A workers is Texas is $12.50 to start. That’s a big jump. Transportation and housing add to that figure too.”

In many situations, third-party specialists are needed to facilitate the H-2A process for growers, he added. This adds further costs for the grower. Involved in calculations on H-2A worker income is the Adverse Effect Wage Rate, which is the minimum wage that the U.S. Department of Labor has determined “must be offered and paid to U.S. and alien workers by agricultural employers of nonimmigrant H-2A visa agricultural workers.”

This, Galeazzi said, is an assurance that H-2A workers “do not adversely affect wages for U.S. workers.”

Galeazzi said that there has been a strong demand for Texas-grown cabbage and onions in recent years, so those commodities have seen production growth. But, specific to this season, “we won’t know onion acreage until December.” Various vegetable crops see fluctuations from year to year.

Galeazzi said Texas will be in “full swing” this November, after good growing conditions in the fall.

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