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California farms struggle to hold on to immigrant labor

Farms in California are experiencing a labor shortage that is driving wages to the highest level in history

Jose Flores is an undocumented immigrant who has been working as a field hand on California farms for 17 years. But his boss, a strawberry farmer, just gave Flores control of his own plot of land. What did the farmer ask return? Simply that Flores stick around.

Farms in California are experiencing a severe labor shortage that’s driving field hand wages to their highest levels in history. It has forced farmers to compete fiercely for skilled workers, offering benefits like health insurance, childcare, paid time-off, or, in Flores’ case, a piece of land.

The number of fieldworkers in California has shrunk nearly 40 percent since 2002. Economists and other experts say that’s the result of tightened immigration policies and an improved Mexican economy. People are leaving California because there are more opportunities in Mexico, which has a better social safety net. In addition, making it to the U.S. is harder than before.

VICE News’ Nellie Bowles visits a small farm in California to see how the labor shortage is affecting the bottom line — and what that means for the cost of food.

This segment originally aired April 11, 2017, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.