Jim Vietheer, owner of a cow-calf operation called HAVE Angus and former president of the Sacramento County Farm Bureau, knows how important cattle production and dairy farming is to the U.S. food supply. But this, he says, depends on immigration. “California is the biggest dairy-producing state in the country,” Vietheer explains. “We use a lot of immigrant labor, and we’re suffering from the labor shortage just like everyone else in agriculture. In the beef cattle industry, immigrants do all different jobs, ranging from being a cowboy, to irrigating, to whatever else.”
In 2014, 69 percent of California’s agriculture workers were immigrants. Yet the Golden State’s ability to maintain these workers has suffered recently. Between 2002 and 2014, the size of California’s field and crop workforce shrunk by almost 40 percent.
If there were people in the United States that wanted to work and do this kind of work, then we wouldn’t need immigrant labor.
HAVE Angus, founded in 1992, calves about 50 to 60 cows per year. “We have an intense embryo-transfer program with embryos purchased from some of the best herds in the United States,” Vietheer says. They have a registered Angus seed-stock business, and they sell both bulls and heifers: Bulls to commercial cattlemen, and heifers to junior exhibitors. On the side, Vietheer also sells livestock equipment for WW Manufacturing, in addition to running HAVE Angus with two non-active business partners. “Basically, I am a one-man show,” he says. And it’s his second career; previously, he spent 27 years working for local city government in Sacramento as a streets services general supervisor.
In the two years Vietheer spent as president of the Sacramento County Farm Bureau, the topic of immigration came up frequently. Members attested to its impact on agricultural businesses in Sacramento County and across the entire state. “It has been a bit of a hardship that we rely on an immigrant labor force pretty heavily, but the people that are born here in America don’t want to do the work,” Vietheer says. “To help those who work in agriculture, we need to reinstate or come up with a new work visa program where people can come across the border and work, and go home without having to pay exorbitant fees and face danger paying ‘coyotes’ to get here.”
As it now stands, that kind of mobility is nearly impossible. “If there were people in the United States that wanted to work and do this kind of work, then we wouldn’t need immigrant labor, but we do,” Vietheer says. “Immigration policy needs to be revised to allow for a workforce that is able to come back-and-forth as required.”