Other factors include: "competition from farms with other crops" -- i.e., white wine grapes matured at the same time as the pears this year, and vineyard work pays better, so farmworkers picked grapes instead -- "and the lure of better paying jobs, like construction and landscaping."
Local pear farmers already have problems -- pears were king in Lake County once, but Americans are eating less canned fruit these days, and pears have gone out of fashion. Lake County has already "lost more than half its pear orchards in the past decade," according to the county ag commissioner.
The pear farmer gets hardly anything per pound. Last year's price -- considered a good price -- was about 12.5 cents a pound.
(this pathetic price brings to mind one of my favorite quotes from Mendocino County's populist cattle rancher and politician John Pinches, arguing that legalizing and taxing marijuana would not only help the local economy, but take away the criminal element: "If tomatoes was $5,000 a pound, there'd be killings and shootings in the tomato fields!" I don't think pot farmers are getting $5,000 a pound these days, but they're getting a whole hell of lot more than 12.5 cents.)
We've had an amazingly bountiful year here -- late spring rains and early warm weather have meant abundant gardens -- and I really feel for farmer Nick Ivicevich, 69, "who has been growing pears in Lake County for 45 years." One of his orchards is among the oldest in Lake County, "a 3-acre plot first planted in 1885."
Ivicevich tells the Press Democrat that when he was "gazing at his abundant, unblemished crop last month," he felt:
"This is what I waited for my whole lifetime, is what I was thinking," Ivicevich said.
He expected to harvest 2,100 tons of perfect pears, compared with last year's 1,400 tons.
"His labor contractor, along with his workers, was held up by late-ripening crops in the Sacramento Valley," and now there's only enough time to pick maybe half his crop -- pears have to be picked inside a three-week window.
Ivicevich, like other Lake County farmers, might be ready to give up.
"I don't know if I'll try one more year," he said, although "He becomes emotional at the thought of losing the orchards, which his son hopes to continue farming, then pass on to his son."
Packer Sully says several of her neighbors are "already are making plans to bulldoze their orchards," and that "if the border crackdown continues without a guest worker program ... most family farmers will go out of business."
"Do people want to outsource their food in this country?" she asks.
and that's the question, isn't it?
There are plenty here at dKos who continue to say "Secure the borders" -- let alone the fantasyland nature of the idea of securing 2,100 miles of border -- who then will pick California's food crops?
The UFW says that if farmers paid as well as contractors, and offered as good working conditions, there'd be no farmworker shortage, that low wages are the problem. And I certainly agree that those who pick the produce -- like small farmers -- should get a bigger piece of the agricultural business's profit.
If U.S. citizens started working the fields, one could assume they might have better luck at organizing for better wages and working conditions, including safer (more expensive) pesticide applications -- but either way, the price of food will go up, up, up.
Already, in the last few months here in CA, a bag of groceries is $50 -- whether from the supermarket or health food store, if I buy two bags of groceries, I can count on spending $100.
I don't have an easy answer, that's for sure, but I know that misplaced anger (those who blame illegal immigrants for the $$ problems of working and middle-class Americans), and zenophobic rhetoric are NOT the answer. Schwarzenegger's decision to send California's National Guard troops to the border certainly isn't the answer either. Maybe the troops should be picking the pears instead?
Well, one thing everyday people can do is support their local Farmers Market, if you're lucky enough to have one. The markets are at their peak right now, and while you'll certainly paying more than 12.5 cents per pound for produce!, you can find great deals on delicious just-picked fruits and vegetables, and you know the money is going directly to your hardworking farmer.