Editor's Note: The following commentary was written by Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation and published on their Ag Alert newspaper.
I'm not one for doing a lot of unnecessary paperwork. I like going out in the field and farming, trying out new ideas and ways of doing things in order to improve the growth and production of our orchards and the other crops we grow. But I've come to the realization that as much as I hate paperwork, it's imperative to evaluate the different practices I try—and that means paperwork.
Of course, the "paperwork" of today isn't the same as it was a few years back. With the use of computers and, even handier, the utilization of smartphones and tablets in a myriad of sizes and shapes, it is much easier to record information in real time and access it when you need or want it, no matter where you are. I'm a better farmer, becoming more efficient and increasing productivity in my fields, because of the information I record and utilize when making management decisions—and having a record of what works and what doesn't.
I'm also not a big fan of filling out forms and surveys—though again, I can see the reasons for them. Most farmers and ranchers are private people; we don't want folks questioning or hassling us and would just as soon be left alone. Unfortunately, that is unlikely to happen in the world in which we live.
I have come to realize that if we as agriculturalists want those not involved in agriculture to understand us and the issues confronting our farms and ranches, then we need to provide them with insights. That's especially true for the rules and regulations that are constantly being promulgated upon us at all levels of government. If our elected officials and regulators who create and enact these laws don't have credible information, the chances of having good decisions we can live with are greatly reduced.
The California Farm Bureau has utilized the ability to gain timely information from our members in order to have an effective and positive imprint on many laws and regulations as they are being developed. Surveys of our members helped create an exemption in air quality regulations for low-mileage trucks, and prevented an over-reaching, costly and unnecessary farm equipment engine-replacement program.
Last August, CFBF posted an online labor survey, asking our members for actual data regarding the availability of workers for their operations and any challenges farmers had in hiring an adequate workforce. We asked for information on crop losses they experienced due to labor constraints during the growing season or crops unharvested due to labor shortages, even with good markets for their crops. Additionally, we wanted to gauge whether or not a reliable supply of labor—or lack thereof—changed farmers' decisions on what crops to grow.
The individual information provided by the respondents was kept confidential—although we gave members the option to provide their contact information if we could call on them to talk to an elected official or a reporter about the real-world effects of federal immigration policies.
The survey showed that nearly two-thirds of those who responded had trouble hiring enough workers. The survey produced credible summary information that was widely circulated throughout media outlets as well as testimony in Congress, indicating that there needed to be a fix to our broken labor and immigration system. Farm Bureau was able to show that even during times of high domestic unemployment, farmers and ranchers were challenged to find available workers, even at desirable wage levels.
As you'll read in our story this week, the full U.S. Senate is due to take up an immigration-reform bill soon. The House of Representatives is working on its own immigration proposals. It's imperative to have timely information about what farmers are experiencing with the availability of on-farm workers this year.
That information can be used in developing an immigration-reform package that not only deals with the current agricultural workers in the U.S. but also provides a legal entry system for future immigrant workers, so farmers can be assured of a legal workforce in the future.
For those reasons, Farm Bureau has reactivated our online labor survey.
Please take a few minutes and fill out the survey. As before, we will keep your information private.
Only with current, verifiable information can we push for solutions that will serve the producers of our diverse agricultural commodities, who wager so much to produce them.