Two Watermelon Stories: Panicked Pre-Harvest; Jubilant Post-Harvest

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By Joe Guzzardi

Joe is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow whose commentaries about California's social issues have run in newspapers throughout California and the country for nearly 30 years. Contact Joe at joeguzzardi@capsweb.org, or find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

The writer's views are his own.

June 12, 2017

Here’s a good one for the “crops are rotting in the field” file. A favorite reporter theme that dates back at least 30 years defies the abundant evidence that the rotting crops claim is false and serves only to advance the agenda of immigration advocates. The storyline nevertheless continues year after year. Growers’ messages sent through the gullible press are always the same: unless thousands more low-skill, undereducated illegal immigrants are given guest worker visas which ideally will lead to amnesty for them and their families, then crops will be lost.

No watermelon worries this summer.

The standard fable that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has made potential workers retreat into the omnipresent shadows is commonplace not only in California, but also in Arizona, New York, Washington, Florida and other ag-dependent states.

In late February, the Naples Daily News published an editorial that cited Florida’s growers as anxious and nervous that workers are “petrified over the prospect of deportation,” and that ICE has created the ever-present “chilling effect” on the labor supply. Of particular concern is Immokalee’s watermelon crop. According to Gene McAvoy, director of the Hendry County’s University of Florida agriculture extension office, watermelon growers are less likely to take advantage of H-2A visas to attract foreign-born pickers.

Readers could only conclude that this summer, watermelons would be in short supply, and lucky consumers who could locate one would pay plenty.

But then, less than a month later, The Packer, which publishes current information about the fresh produce industry, wrote that watermelon picking throughout Florida would begin three weeks earlier than normal and would yield “good volume and quality throughout the season.” The Immokalee-based Southern Corporate Packers anticipated one of its biggest crops. The Naples Daily News mentioned Immokalee as one of the most likely labor shortage victims.

About Florida watermelons, readers can choose between fiction and fact. The fiction is watermelon doom and gloom, a crisis that can only be resolved with more immigration. The fact is that there’ll be a watermelon or maybe two for every picnic, and imported labor wasn’t necessary to make the abundant crop happen.
 

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