By: Jane WellsActually, I think the proper punctuation is "Worst. Farm labor shortage. Ever."
There's a different sort of drought plaguing California, the nation's largest farm state. It's $38 billion agricultural sector is facing a scarcity of labor.
"This year is the worst it's been, ever," said Craig Underwood, who farms everything from strawberries to lemons to peppers, carrots, and turnips in Ventura County.
Some crops aren't get picked this season due to a lack of workers.
"We just left them in the field," he said.
The Western Growers Association told CNBC its members are reporting a 20 percent drop in laborers this year. Stronger border controls are keeping workers from crossing into the U.S. illegally, and the current guest worker program is not providing enough bodies.Oh, the humanity! Those poor, poor farmers, having to pay their workers more.
"We have 100 fewer people this year," said Sergio Diaz, who provides workers under contract for growers. "We're having difficulty finding people to do this work."
The lack of workers is forcing farmers to pay more.
Seriously, there's something Pavlovian about how effective for propaganda purposes is this mental image of "crops rotting in the fields" beloved by the PR people of the growers' associations. The reality is that the agriculture industry can't make use of every single vegetable or fruit grown, just as the lumber industry inevitably winds up with some unused sawdust. Each fruit or vegetable ripens at a slightly different time, and there are definite diminishing returns to paying for more picking sweeps through fields looking for optimally ripe ones. But, perhaps, humans have such folk memories of famines that we unthinkingly find horrifying the notion that profit maximizing farmers find it profit maximizing to not pick every single outlier, so we rush to meet their demands for more cheap immigrant labor.
Here's a question: You know how economists love to lecture non-economists about how the science of economics has proven that no such things as shortages can exist, absent price controls?
The Wikipedia article on "Economic shortage" explains:
In common use, the term "shortage" may refer to a situation where most people are unable to find a desired good at an affordable price. In the economic use of "shortage", however, the affordability of a good for the majority of people is not an issue: If people wish to have a certain good but cannot afford to pay the market price, their wish is not counted as part of demand.And you know how economists are always making fun of articles quoting consumers complaining about shortages of stuff they want to buy but can't afford? Yet, these articles about the apocalyptic Farm Labor Shortage are an annual staple of journalism, but how many economists (other than labor economic specialists such as Borjas at Harvard or Martin at UC Davis) ever make fun of these boilerplate articles?