Reprinted from The New York Times by Miriam Jordan and Jill Cowan on November 21, 2018.
When Mark Borman, chief operating officer of Taylor Farms, surveys the expansive fields in the Salinas Valley he sees more graying workers harvesting lettuce than ever before.
The same goes for workers at the packing plants of the company, one of the world’s largest producers and sellers of bagged salads and fresh-cut vegetables.
From New York to California, the nation’s agricultural workers are aging. They are also in short supply, as fewer immigrants are arriving to replace those who retire, and younger generations are finding less physically taxing work.
In a 2017 survey of farmers by the California Farm Bureau Federation, 55 percent reported labor shortages, and the figure was nearly 70 percent for those who depend on seasonal workers. Wage increases in recent years have not compensated for the shortfall, growers said.
Meanwhile, demand keeps swelling for the likes of vegetable snack packs, bagged broccoli and fresh produce, which Taylor Farms provides to retailers and food-service companies.
The answer, Borman says, is technology: automation in the fields and robots in packing plants, which serve the dual purpose of making operations more efficient and improving the quality of jobs farms can offer desperately needed workers. …