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Fifth-Generation California Farmer Depends on Immigrants to Keep Crops Flourishing

As a fifth-generation farmer in California’s Central valley, immigrants are a key part of the workforce that keeps Daniel Bays’ family farm, Bays Ranch, in operation. A lack of legal accommodations for seasonal migrant labor oftentimes complicates Bays’ harvest of almonds, lima beans, and melons, and apricots.

Across more than 2,000 acres, Daniel Bays, 29, helps oversee a harvest that includes apricots, almonds, walnuts, lima beans, and melons. Bays, a fifth-generation farmer in Central California, depends on around 300 seasonal immigrant farm workers during peak harvest to keep these crops flourishing. These mostly Mexican workers comprise about 75 percent of his employees. But U.S. immigration policy has made hiring them very difficult. When many of his workers return to Mexico to renew their visas—as they are required to do– there is often a visa backlog that, he says, can take years to clear. “They’ve gotten bogged down in bureaucracy,” he says.

The frustration exists on a personal level for Bays, especially when it comes to employees who have dedicated years to the ranch. “We’ve trained them up, and given them skills where they’re maybe a tractor driver or working in the shop,” he explains. “We’ve made an investment in individuals.” In other cases, after work permits expire, some migrants remain in the United States to keep their families together, which oftentimes include American-born children. “You have people that want to obey the rules, obey the laws, be productive citizens, and we’re not allowing that to happen in an efficient manner,” he says. “It’s very frustrating.”

You have people that want to obey the rules, obey the laws, be productive citizens, and we’re not allowing that to happen in an efficient manner. It’s very frustrating.

The current foreman at Bays Ranch, a farm industry veteran, initially started out on a hand crew. Now he controls all irrigation, one of the farm’s most important tasks. “He’s done very well, and raised a family,” Bays says, explaining that one of the foreman’s sons now works for the ranch, while another is attending university. Other workers have also seen children go on to attend college instead of working exclusively in agriculture. “It’s provided an opportunity for them to support their families and try and provide a better life for the next generation,” he says.

Without an immigrant workforce, Bays doubts that American workers would step up.  He says Americans are reticent to give up weekends, or work 12-hour days, and many feel like picking or planting fruit is beneath them. Most of Bays’ labor troubles, then, stem from his inability to amass large crews during the crucial summer harvest. “During apricot harvest, we have close to 300 people that come out and pick fruit,” Bays explains. “We depend on the labor contractor for that, and that’s where we start to feel the impact from immigration issues. We need to have a way to be able to move labor back and forth, where it’s a mutually beneficial situation and people don’t get mired down in paperwork and forgotten somewhere in a file cabinet. That way, the system isn’t constantly changing, and people can learn how to use it and plan ahead, whether it’s the employer or the employee.”

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