ast year marked the fifth consecutive year Santa Barbara County’s agriculture industry has struggled with labor shortages, which have ranged from 15 to 26 percent. Farmers, therefore, must leave crops to rot in the fields. An estimated $13 million of strawberries, broccoli, leafy greens, and other unharvested produce were plowed under last year, up from five years ago when losses amounted to an estimated $4.4 million, according to the region’s Grower-Shipper Association. Central Coast growers do not receive government subsidies for mowing unpicked berries and veggies as Midwestern farmers do for destroying wheat or barley. Some area growers have insurance for losses from heat waves or pests but not for lack of workforce. Five years ago, when Santa Ynez Valley grower Cindy Douglas put a call out for farmworkers on Spanish radio, she got flooded. Not anymore. Now, farmers might have a crew of five one day, and a crew of 20 the next. Total, there are anywhere from 15,000 to 23,000 ag workers in Santa Barbara County, most of whom are from Mexico. The number fluctuates as most crops are picked multiple times a year. A field of strawberries can be harvested two to three times per week for roughly six months. The strawberry crop has grown by 20 percent in acreage in five years, and now it is the county’s number one commodity, according to the agriculture report released this week.
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