About 8,000 H-2A applications are expected for the state for all of 2014, he said.
Fazio said the Washington Farm Labor Association files about 80% of the H-2A guest worker applications in Washington state on behalf of its clients.
During the recent recession. producer-reported labor shortages were often below 2%. Now, with a strengthening economy and tighter border security, fewer workers are working in seasonal agriculture, he said.
While the California drought may send some seasonal workers to the Northwest, that shift hasn’t yet been reflected in producer reports of shortages, Fazio said.
That puts more pressure on the H-2A program, he said.
“Everyone knows that a guest worker program, whether it is H-2A or not, is what is going to save labor-intensive agriculture on the West Coast,” he said.
Fazio said the H-2A program needs reforms from Congress that will make it easier to use.
“We need a government that is not hostile to the program,” he said. “We need a program that makes it easier for farmers to do it legally than for farm workers to do it illegally.”
Fazio said current wages for the H-2A program in the state are $11.87 per hour, and with benefits the cost to growers is about $15 per hour.
Jim Colbert, business relations manager for Chelan Fruit, said in the release that providing for housing for guest workers is a challenge for small growers.
“A state program to assist growers in building more worker housing would sure help,” Colbert said in the release.