Bernie Thiel, like many agricultural producers across the High Plains, has had to lower the acreage he plants to squash because of a lack of labor.
As The Texas Observer reports, Thiel grows labor-intensive produce like squash, zucchini, tomatoes and okra outside of Lubbock. The produce must be hand-picked - backbreaking work that most Americans aren’t willing to do. So like many farmers, Thiel relies on immigrant labor to get the job done, but many of his workers are aging and 50 to 70 percent of immigrant farmworkers are in the country illegally, so it’s difficult to find the help he needs.
Thiel has sought domestic workers but hasn’t had much luck. He said if he doesn’t find help soon, he “may just bow out and ride off into the sunset.”
Low pay and often dangerous work conditions, as well as increased immigration enforcement, has likely kept some of the estimated 100,000 undocumented farm laborers who reside in the southern part of the state from traveling to the Panhandle, because it would require them to use a major highway, past immigration checkpoints, heightening the risk of deportation.