University of Florida researcher Gulcan Onel recently provided a first look at data she gathered from surveying 307 Florida citrus harvesters in 2016. She debuted her early research findings at the Florida Agricultural Policy Outlook Conference on February 9 at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center.
While she noted that the data is still being further analyzed, she shared some of the findings on the changing makeup of the citrus labor force. The most notable change is the increase in H-2A workers being utilized in the Florida citrus industry. In 2012, another researcher from the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences conducted a Florida agricultural workers survey. One-third of those surveyed were citrus laborers. At the time, only about 9 percent of the total agricultural workers surveyed were H-2A guest workers. In Onel’s 2016 survey of citrus harvesters, about 80 percent were H-2A workers.
Her new study also looked at country of birth, and her sample from across Florida had approximately 91 percent Mexican, 6 percent Caribbean and 3 percent Central American citrus workers. Less than 1 percent of citrus workers were from the United States.
When Onel looked at the average age of citrus workers in 2016 and compared it to the 2012 Florida agricultural workers survey, domestic workers are getting significantly older while H-2A workers are getting slightly younger. The study also showed that H-2A workers were more efficient than domestic workers, picking more fruit per hour.
Onel concluded her presentation by saying that the Florida citrus industry is rapidly adopting the H-2A program, likely due to gains in efficiency and reduction in the number of domestic workers in agriculture. She believes that despite its high costs, the H-2A program will continue to be a viable strategy for Florida growers to tackle labor risks. However, she cautioned that the likelihood of immigration reform in the near future with emphasis on enforcement is high.
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