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Local Asparagus Growers Face Imports, State Regulations and Fears of a Deported Workforce

STOCKTON -- As asparagus is cut, washed and packed at the King’s Crown Packing company in San Joaquin County, there’s a person tending to each part of its production.

“It’s all labor intensive,” Robert Ferguson, a co-owner and farmer of the company said.

Ferguson said selling asparagus especially when competing with stalks shipped from Mexico and a growing number of state regulations have made it difficult for him to stay out of the red.

“How does one stay competitive when you’re paying, having to pay four times the amount than your competitor?” he said.

As President Donald Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants continues, Ferguson fears that may take a toll on his company’s workforce. Earlier this year, a Stockton grandfather was deported to Mexico leaving the local immigrant community worried.

“It’ll only take one (raid) and you just might as well shut the whole thing down,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson said right now they have enough workers to tend to their fields and sheds but as the days get warmer and the asparagus grows faster, he’s unsure if he’ll have enough people to harvest the crop. As the uncertainty grows he said he may have to turn to a machine to harvest his crop and hope that is what saves their company.

“The main solution to all of this is to go mechanical,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson added they’re hoping to secure a mechanical harvest soon but if that doesn’t help production cost they might have to shut their business down later this year.