South Bay Farms Ditch Growing Strawberries Due to Costs, Lack of Workers - NBC Bay Area
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South Bay Farms Ditch Growing Strawberries Due to Costs, Lack of Workers

Farmers believe the price of strawberries will rise because it is such a delicate crop that is getting harder to produce and harvest.

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    Strawberries are becoming too expensive to produce in the South Bay due to increasing production costs and a lack of affordable and available workers. Damian Trujillo reports. (Published Thursday, April 21, 2016)

    Strawberries are becoming too expensive to produce in the South Bay due to increasing production costs and a lack of affordable and available workers.

    Farmers believe the price of strawberries will rise because it is such a delicate crop that is getting harder to produce and harvest. An area farm owner blames a broken immigration system for depleting the supply of workers.

    "Badly, badly. In the worst way," Pete Aiello said of needing workers.

    Aiello owns Uesugi Farms and is a former head of the Santa Clara County Farm Bureau.

    "Just continues getting worse every year," Aiello said.

    Aiello once grew some of the biggest strawberries in the Santa Clara Valley. But not anymore.

    "This year we're just going to put one of our pepper crops here," Aiello said of a field once use to grow strawberries.

    Aiello said the biggest problem is he could not get enough workers to pick the berries, which were rotting on the vine.

    One of Aiello's crews are now picking Napa cabbage, instead of strawberries near Gilroy. On Thursday the crew was made of up of only about eight workers when it usually has at least 13 pickers.

    "If you don't have the labor to keep up with the crop, you're flushing 20-grand an acre down the toilet," Aiello said. "And that adds up pretty fast."

    Aiello's company still grows some berries in Watsonville. He said the big growers like Driscoll can withstand the labor shortage, but warns even they are beginning to feel the pinch.

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