LAKE COUNTY, Calif., Nov. 24, 2006 — -- Nick Ivicevich has been growing pears in northern California for 45 years, but never had he seen as good a crop as the one that blossomed here this season.
"I thought I died and went to heaven," he said. "I kept pinching myself. I could not believe how beautiful my crop was."
But now, much of his crop, almost two million pounds, lies on the ground -- rotting away.
Thanks to increased security along the Mexican border, thousands of migrant workers who harvest the nation's fruits and vegetables never showed up for work. Ivicevich's pears ripened and then just fell off the tree.
"I'd lay in my house," he said, "and hear, 'plop, plop, plop' … and I'd have to look at them out my window. And, it's just sickening."
Watch John Quinones' report on the rotting pear crop tonight on "World News."
Farmers across the country blame Congress for not coming up with legislation that would grant migrant workers "seasonal worker status," allowing them to come work in U.S. fields temporarily and legally. It's a matter of national security, some say.
"Do we want to become dependent on foreign food like we are on foreign oil?" asked Toni Scully, a California pear shipper. "Or do we want to recognize that our food is put on our table by Mexican workers who need a legal way, and deserve a legal way, to come into this country?"
"We couldn't get by without foreign workers in California," said Jack King of the California Farm Bureau. "We employ some 450,000 workers."
As if things weren't bad enough, the farmers in California are worried about the pruning season for the pear trees in December. And then there's the next harvest -- not only pears, but also of grapes and walnuts. Unless those workers somehow get across that border, agriculture here once again will be hard hit, if not crippled.
If the migrants don't show up for the next harvest, Ivicevich said he'll have to destroy entire orchards that were planted more than a century ago."
"That makes them 120 years old," he said, in tears. "So, I mean, how could I take that tree out?"
Instead of pears, he said, he'd grow hay -- a crop that doesn't require too many workers.