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Western Growers CEO: Yuma County Ag Work Will Go On

Western Growers
Dave Puglia, president and CEO of Western Growers

The president and chief executive officer of an organization that represents farmers growing fresh produce in Yuma County said local agriculture work will go on with added protections for workers due to COVID-19 regulations.

The United States and Mexico are temporarily restricting all non-essential travel across its borders. “Non-essential” travel includes travel that is considered tourism or recreational in nature.

Department of Homeland Security officials said critical services such as food, fuel, healthcare and life-saving medicines must reach people on both sides of the border every day. Essential travel will therefore continue unimpeded during this time.

Dave Puglia with Western Growers said members have been advised to make physical distance among workers where possible, including on ag buses. Additionally, growers are recommitted to being highly diligent to worker hygiene and health.

“The agriculture industry is deemed a critically important element of the United States infrastructure by the Department of Homeland Security," Puglia told KAWC. "It's one of the 16 sectors of our society that are expected to continue to work and serve the public, even at a time when we have lockdowns occurring, as we do in California. And there's a good reason for that. Our food supply is a national security concern."

Puglia said lawmakers should include farmers who will be in need of financial relief as they discuss providing financial assistance to industries hurt during the pandemic.

Puglia also said the local agriculture industry could lose half of its workforce over delays in H-2A visa applications for workers due to COVID-19 restrictions.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the H-2A program allows U.S. employers or U.S. agents who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs.

H-2A employers are expecting a drop in their workforce because of travel restrictions and visa processing limitations.

“By stopping the processing of H-2A visa applications from Mexico, we would really be inflicting harm on our continued ability to provide those fresh foods to Americans both in the immediate term and also down the road,” Puglia said.

He added that the ag industry is committed to maintaining the current food supply to grocery stores and restaurants.

Victor is originally from West Sacramento, California and has lived in Arizona for more than five years. He began his print journalism career in 2004 following his graduation from Georgetown University in Washington D.C. Victor has been a reporter for the following daily newspapers: The Monterey County Herald, The Salinas Californian and the Reno Gazette-Journal, where he covered stories including agriculture, education and Latino community news. Victor has also served as a local editor for Patch, a national news organization with hyperlocal websites, in Carmichael, California in the Sacramento area. He also served as the editor for The New Vision, the newspaper for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson, which includes Yuma and La Paz counties. Victor lives in Somerton. He enjoys spending time with his family and friends and following most sports.
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