Diamonds And Doom-Mongering: The Western Growers Association Wants More Illegal Mexicans

My first year working at

California`s State Capitol in Sacramento
was
basically a lot of guesswork. And more often than not, I
guessed wrong. 


Western Growers Association
was having a little
shindig at a restaurant just down the street from the
Capitol. 

My boss

at the time
was a member of the Assembly Committee
on Agriculture.

So naturally, we were invited. 

I
had never been to a WGA party. But I assumed that it was
a fairly casual event because, well, they were farmers.

Yeah, not so much.

There were so many

diamonds
in that room that, were it not for the fact
that

everybody was white
and (except me!) middle aged,
you would think you had stumbled into a party for

Def Jam Records.

(That would be rap music, people.)

Oh yeah, I thought I was Ms. Thang in my favorite
black

Armani
suit (with a subtle stripe). So I was
especially
miffed to find the women were better
dressed than I —it just wasn`t fair…they were supposed
to be wearing

overalls and straw hats!

But these women looked like they fell off the

pages of Vogue!

I
had no idea that California farmers did so well.

As it turned out, they were by far the wealthiest
industry I ever encountered in Sacramento—and the most
powerful lobby (with the exception of the

California Teachers Association
, worst by a wide
margin).

For example, WGA`s current Chairman of the Board is

John Powell Jr.
who owns

Peter Rabbit Farms
.


According to
the University of California at Davis`s

Rural Migration News
:


“Peter Rabbit Farms,
founded in 1950, is a 5,000 acre operation, including
2,000 acres of carrots, 600 acres of grapes, and 600
acres of lemons, grapefruit, and oranges. Peter Rabbit
has 120 year-round and 1,500 peak winter employees.”

Their motto?

"We Just Keep Growing."
 
Yeah.

Underestimating the farming industry is a mistake that
many make—but none should.

In 1997, somewhat older and wiser, I was taking a couple
of Assemblymen and one Senator on a tour of the Central
Valley. We drove south on highway 99 and took an exit
near Selma, California. 

One Assemblyman said the area smelled like

manure and fertilizer.

I
laughed and said “You mean it smells like

money and power
.”

Western Growers Association, based in Irvine,
California, represents

3000
farmers in California and Arizona. 

Honestly, I have mixed feelings about this industry. 
These are good, hard working, conservative
people.  Many of them became good friends. 

But they also have an extraordinary sense of entitlement
and a

flair
for

dramatics
.  There is

always
a looming crisis…our food supply is

always in danger
.

Forgive me for not panicking, perhaps

vegetarians
will riot in the streets…but the

farming industry
is always bellyaching about
something.

They need more

water
, they need more subsidies, they need more tax
exemptions and most of all…they need illegal farm
workers.

Uh huh…they need them.    

Earlier this month,

VDARE.COM`s Joe Guzzardi


told us
about the farm labor shortage in

California
and how it has allegedly devastated the
raisin crop.

(Allegedly, there wasn`t enough

farm labor
from Mexico.  I suppose

only Mexicans
can harvest raisins.)

Last week, they told us the lettuce crop will rot
because there is no one to harvest it. [Farmers
fear winter crops will rot in Arizona`s fields
,
by Bob Christie, The York Dispatch, October 25,
2005]

According to the farmers in Yuma County,

tighter security on the Mexican border
has created a
farm labor shortage in Arizona.

Arizona produces 90 percent of the country`s lettuce
during the winter months.  

And, apparently, only Mexicans can pick lettuce too.

Last week, representatives from WGA met with Yuma
officials to warn them about the potential lettuce
disaster.  According to the Arizona Republic (State
farmers lose workers, profits to border sweeps

by Susan Carroll, November 3, 2005) they also made a
formal request that border patrol agents pull back their
efforts during the harvest.

Western Growers is currently lobbying in Washington for
emergency legislation that would allow guest workers
from Mexico on a

temporary basis
for this year`s winter season.


Tom Nassif
, a lawyer and former ambassador to
Morocco, is the current President of WGA.
[Email
him.
]
After his meeting with Yuma officials, he summarized the
plan during a press conference later in the day.


"We`re trying to find
a short-term solution until the Congress develops the
political will to come up with compromise legislation
that gives us a legal and stable work force.”
[Ariz.
farmers fear worker shortage
By Bob Christie,
Associated Press October 24, 2005]

This is all justified by a…labor crisis?


According to
Western Growers itself, the lettuce
industry in Arizona has “exploded” over the last
three years:


“Arizona`s top fresh
produce commodity is lettuce with $356 million in cash
receipts for 2003, which has rapidly exploded to $590
million in 2004.”

Yuma County, Arizona also has a

24 percent unemployment rate.
 
[pdf]

Hmm…how can they have a 24% unemployment rate and a
labor shortage at the same time?

Answer: they don`t. WGA doesn`t want

legal farm labor
—it wants

cheap
farm labor.

The farming industry does not fear a cut in the food
supply—it fears a cut in its profits.

Bottom line: The folks at Western Growers
[contact
them
] will continue to issue

threat con delta
warnings as various crops come
to harvest.

But I`m not too worried about it.

Thanks to their support of

NAFTA
and

CAFTA
(that`s a story for another column) I can
always buy my lettuce from a

farmer in Mexico.


Bryanna Bevens [email
her] is a political consultant and former chief of staff
for a member of the California State Assembly.