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.