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Salinas Valley

It’s not easy being green: how growers continue to conquer challenges

Although the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced a 90-day waiver for those hauling agricultural products, the mandate has still caused headaches and confusion.

And while California hasn’t officially set its own rules for electronic logs in state, many expect it will come to fruition by 2020.

In one to three words, how would you describe your business in 2018?

Mark Sergent, S & S Marketing and Sales, Inc. – challenging

Bob Roach, Monterey County – dynamic

April Ward, Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement – hard-working, progressive, dedicated

Brian Vertrees, Naturipe Farms, LLC – flavorful, dynamic, committed

Tom Nunes, The Nunes Company, Inc. – challenging

A losing battle in the fields
It is no surprise labor remains a significant hurdle for many growers, and particularly for Salinas. In addition to the dearth of workers, new regulatory burdens for agriculture are making life even more difficult for those who grow and ship the region’s signature crops.

Tom M. Nunes, vice president of operations at the Nunes Company Inc., agrees, noting, “Labor uncertainty is one of many factors we, as well as the rest of the industry, consider as acres are planted.”

“Labor and workplace rules have increased costs for health insurance mandates, worker compensation insurance, paid time off for various mandated leaves of absence, increases in the minimum wage in the next four years, and changes to the agricultural overtime rule,” comments Norm Groot, executive director of the Monterey County Farm Bureau. “Since farmers are forced to accept market pricing for their crops, there is little opportunity to recapture these increased labor costs.”

Farmworker housing
Compounding the labor challenge is the ongoing shortage of farmworker housing. As a result of these struggles, the City of Salinas commissioned a forthcoming “Farmworker Housing Study and Action Plan” to collect data on existing housing needs as well as to foster broader regional collaboration.

For its part, Tanimura & Antle, Inc. built a $17-million housing project in Salinas that many believe will set the industry standard for future projects.

Another grower-shipper, the Nunes Company, Inc., undertook a multiphase construction project, Boronda Villas, for seasonal farmworker housing in Salinas, which will accommodate up to 600 employees when completed. The housing project will be constructed on infill land to make use of existing infrastructure and protect the surrounding farm land.

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