Colorado produce growers, farm labor regulators and service providers came together in early December to seek solutions to the acute farm worker shortage throughout the state. The Colorado Agriculture and Farm Labor Summit was held in Colorado Springs, followed by the Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association first ever Produce Labor Conference the following day in Aurora, Colo. The goal was finding solutions that provide services to farm laborers and provide growers with the labor they need to raise and harvest crops.
CFVGA President Robert Sakata, who co-chaired the session with Colorado Department of Labor and Employment Director of Southeast and South-Central Workforce Areas Betty Velasquez: “This process gave growers the opportunity to see what services are available from the public sector for their workers “And it also let service providers understand the difficulty farmers face finding qualified farm workers.”
In introducing the discussion, Velasquez said: “If your farm worker is better taken care of, he or she will be a better worker. It just makes sense (for growers and service providers) to work together.”
Jason Resnick, general counsel for Western Growers Association, spoke about how the wage rate for foreign farm workers in Colorado is slated to increase to $13.13 per hour in January, which represents a 23 percent increase. This rate is calculated not to undercut domestic workers’ pay rates.
Another part of the summit was aimed at looking for technology and innovative ideas to alleviate the farm labor shortage. To that end, CFVGA’s labor conference featured demonstrations of products currently on the market as well as ideas still under development. The winner of the demonstration of current technology was C&M Transplanters, and the top entry in the ideas-under-formation category was a cooperative mobile labor workforce.
The CFVGA is comprised of approximately 250 members, including growers of all sizes and types of production throughout the state, as well as representatives of allied industries. The Colorado fruit and vegetable growing sector contributes nearly $485 million to Colorado in production and sales and is multiplied as it goes through the distribution chain. Over 90,000 Colorado acres are in fruit and vegetable production.