In general, growers would have like to have 15% more workers on harvest crews than what they have been able to secure, Steensma said.
“Some guys are worse situations if they have huge ranches of fujis. They could probably use hundreds of pickers,” Steensma said.
The causes behind the labor shortage are multiple, industry sources said. Part of it was the fact of a later-starting apple harvest, Steensma said.
While some growers assumed the season would catch up with normal timing, that never happened. “We stayed two weeks late through the whole deal,” Grim said.
“Normally we start the first or second week of August, but we really didn’t get going until Labor Day,” Steensma said. Growers may have come early but then decided to find work in California or some place else, he said.
In addition, undocumented workers may not be traveling to find work as they used to, Steensma speculated.
Grim said the industry has not seen the number of pickers it normally experiences. “It doesn’t matter if you are talking about a larger grower or a small growers, they are all mentioning the fact that there are not enough people around,” Grim said.
Grim said some have speculated that increased talk about immigration enforcement has kept workers away from available jobs.
Growers have had little luck using the state’s employment service called WorkSource. One organization Grim talked to said the company recently received 186 referrals through the WorkSource office. Of those 117 called for an interviews, of which 94 were hired. Only 17 showed up to work, Grim said and only five are still working at the farm.
Grim said the harvest weather has been good through September, October and early November for harvesting fruit with good internal condition.
However, the biggest effect from the shortage of workers may be evident in fruit quality later in the storage season, Steensma said.
“There was a period of time where we were four to five days behind what we would like to be, and so that puts a little behind the curve of where we wanted to pick and pack and store,” he said.
While the fruit will be picked, he said that fruit originally expected to be marketed in May could be marketed out of controlled atmosphere storage in January.
“I think the galas and goldens are in good shape, but we started getting behind in the late anjou harvest (and) red delicious and it started compounding,” he said.