Table grapes and wine grapes are headed toward a nice finish in what has been a fairly benign year — at least insofar as pests and disease.
“Thompson seedless, the largest table variety, is beginning to wind down, but there are still some later varieties like Crimson and Autumn Royal with a ways to go,” says Barry Bedwell, president of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League.
“I would guess that out of an estimated 88-90 million-box crop in California, we still have 20 percent remaining. Yields are good, as is quality, although a little less than estimated earlier in the season.”
As the season comes to a close, the industry is casting a wary eye toward the future, particularly as it relates to labor. Grape growers across the state have largely dodged a bullet thus far.
“Labor remains tight, but for the most part adequate, to harvest the crop in a timely fashion,” Bedwell says. “The major concern expressed by growers relates to the potential impact of the “No Match” rule recently issued by the Department of Homeland Security. If enacted, it could mean serious problems come pruning time, and would have an immediate negative impact on permanent workers who are undocumented.”
Agriculture is a key target, according to Don Dressler, private industry consultant. “At least 35 percent of the Social Security “No Match” cases involve agricultural employers, although agriculture makes up only 2 percent of U.S. employment,” he says. “Regardless, employers need to understand that this is now a criminal matter — it’s not just a slap on the wrist, pay a fine, and go on with business. This is serious and could involve jail time.”
Dressler has advice on how to deal with the situation, if confronted. If approached by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), find out why they are there, he says.
“Ask questions: Is this a ‘raid,’, which requires a search warrant, but does not require advance notice? ‘Is this an I-9 audit,’ which requires a three-day advance notice in writing? No search warrant is required for an I-9 audit. If ICE agents present a subpoena in conjunction with an I-9 audit, they may tell you to comply immediately — but, you are entitled to three days advance notice, and ICE cannot short-cut that with a subpoena.”