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Since 1915 the Petrocco family, led today by Petrocco's father, David Sr., has been farming leafy vegetables in Brighton, CO. An annual rite at David Petrocco Farms Inc. was welcoming the seasonal migrant workers from Mexico. For fourth-generation farmer Joe Petrocco, the idea has come in the nick of time - possible Colorado legislation to bring in sorely needed seasonal workers.

"That sounds real good to me," the Brighton farmer/businessman said Tuesday. "It sounds like it would keep us competitive in this labor market. It's been tough."

Until recent years, his son says, there was an easygoing, family-like rhythm to the arrangement: "Their grandfathers worked for my grandfather; their fathers worked for my father. We all stayed together."

Farmers hope the proposed legislation will calm the chaotic situation which exists now. They say it's crucial to find a way to mitigate soaring costs and bring legal seasonal labor back to Colorado.

As it stands now, the problems are multiplying, Petrocco said. The outcry over illegal immigration has interrupted what traditionally was an informal flow of seasonal workers. Today, workers who get to the U.S. gravitate toward the construction and restaurant businesses.

"We put ads in the paper for field labor and don't get hardly any response," Petrocco said. "We have 350 positions and get two or three responses."

Petrocco Farms has cut back its farmed acreage by 25 percent and profits have declined by that much too. "Everything's down by a quarter," Petrocco said.

He adds that the only relief in recent years has been a mixed-blessing federal program called the H-2A Guest Worker Program: "We never would have made it the last three years without H-2A."

Overseen by the Department of Labor, H-2A allows businesses to bring in 45,000 seasonal workers from Mexico. But the workers must be guaranteed free housing, travel to and from Mexico and full workers compensation benefits, among other requirements.

Workers must also be paid at a formula that exceeds the minimum wage, which Petrocco says now comes to about $10 an hour.

Meanwhile, he says, Mexico is getting away with mischief.
one could substitute China in there

"They're just pouring stuff (agricultural goods) in here and they don't have the regulations we do," he said. "And they're paying ten bucks a day (in wages) and we're paying ten bucks an hour. They're kicking our butts."

As the minimum wage and the added hourly costs have swelled, Petrocco says farm businesses have cut back on the hours for their seasonal workers.

"We explain to our workers that to survive (as a company) they'll have to work shorter hours - but still produce more. But they understand. We're almost like family. We're part of each other."
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