Labor Unrest Driving Up Produce Prices

A local produce buyer is feeling the effects of a farm strike this past week in Baja California, south of Ensenada in the San Quintin Valley.

An estimated 50,000 farmworkers were accused of blocking north-south highway traffic, and some were refusing to pick in the fields. While many have returned, it is an issue markets and produce importers are well aware of.

"Those trucks don't get across, so the fruit sits on those trucks for an extra day or two, that's your freshness," said Stanley Alvarez, chief buyer for Coast Citrus.

It doesn't matter if it is the weather or labor unrest, Alvarez needs to get his produce to market.

 His family has been in the produce business for more than 50 years. Their warehouse is just blocks away from the Mexican border and is filled with bananas, mangos, strawberries, tomatoes, pineapples, onions and much more.

But the demand for that produce is always strong.

"You want your product in here Monday morning, Wednesday morning without any excuse," said Alvarez.

But that's not always easy. Weather is often the culprit. From drought to freeze to wind, extreme weather conditions can damage fruit and limit the amount available. But second on the list is labor unrest.

It could be a dockworkers strike delaying imported produce deliveries, or the strike by farmworkers in Mexico.

"You have a time frame for tomatoes and strawberries to get them off that field," said Alvarez, "You need a thousand workers, you can only get 500."

Poor quality and limited supplies often drive up prices to consumers. But that passes as harvests move around the world.

Where one month tomatoes are coming from Mexico, another month they could be coming from Central America or Florida.

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