Late apple harvest, worker shortage stresses growers

11/07/2011 08:37:00 AM
Tom Karst

He said some growers might walk away from some lower-value late season varieties — notably braeburn — in deference to higher value late season varieties such as fuji, Pacific Rose and Pink Ladies.

Steensma said apple market conditions were good in early November, but he said it was possible that prices for regular storage fruit could come under pressure if growers are forced to put more fruit in short-term storage than usual.

Future

With the current crisis signalling even deeper troubles ahead, Steensma said the industry will have to “go back to the drawing board” on finding enough labor in future years. “Our state government has a vested interest in us, but the national government, they don’t really care.”Grim said Washington growers of every size are concerned about the future of labor availability.

“We have been asking for, crying for, praying for a fix to carry of the fact that these are seasonal jobs that the majority of people in this country do not want,” Grim said. “We would like to find a guest worker system that would allow us to bring those workers into the country to take these jobs and then go back home,” he said. The alternative, he said, is that orchards will go out of business, he said. “We need to this fix and it isn’t going to get fix unless you want to crater this industry for reasons of lack of workers to get it picked, packed and processed.

If legal farm workers aren’t found, the Washington tree fruit industry could be in trouble, said Dan Fazio, owner of the Washington Farm Labor Association, Lacey, Wash. “I’m on the record predicting that 50% of the smaller orchards will be torn out in the next ten years,” he said.

Frank Gasperini, executive vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Council of Agricultural employers, said the troubles in Washington state aren’t unique.

with low unemployment in Mexico and slowing migration, all of U.S. agriculture will be challenged to find workers in the next five to ten years, he said. “In the end, we have to find a way to convince Congress to make the workers doing the work now legal, or we are in serious trouble.”


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Amy Monnin    
Ohio  |  November, 08, 2011 at 09:39 AM

You could go to the High Schools and recruit young people to pick. Here in Ohio Many of the farmers employ Youth on their farms for things like bailing hay and straw, working with livestock, ect. Not sure if this is an untapped source for you or not. Just a suggestion.

Adrianne Campbell    
Santa Rosa Beach, FL  |  November, 08, 2011 at 01:05 PM

Do they advertise for workers on Craigslist?

jACOB    
DENVER  |  November, 09, 2011 at 10:25 AM

i WOULD HAVE GONE TO WORK AS A PICKER FOR $150.00 A DAY IN A SECOND HAD i KNOWN ABOUT THE OPPORTUNITY. Is there still time to get a job as a picker. `12 hour days are fine with me. Even though I do not have any experience, I do not mind hard work. Honestly where do I apply?

jACOB    
DENVER  |  November, 09, 2011 at 10:26 AM

i WOULD HAVE GONE TO WORK AS A PICKER FOR $150.00 A DAY IN A SECOND HAD i KNOWN ABOUT THE OPPORTUNITY. Is there still time to get a job as a picker. `12 hour days are fine with me. Even though I do not have any experience, I do not mind hard work. Honestly where do I apply?

Tyler    
Portland, OR  |  November, 12, 2011 at 11:58 PM

When we heard about this, my girlfriend and I went looking for work picking apples in Washington, and were unable to find any after several days of searching (and camping in the cold, as we had nowhere to stay). WorkSource refused to help us, as we do not live in WA. Without speaking Spanish, there's no way to talk to the people you meet in the fields, and when they do understand you, they don't think you're serious about working because you're a white person. When we finally found a foreman who (skeptically) agreed to let us work, we were told the next morning that it was "too cold to pick today", and that we should come back on Monday. Disgusted with the idea of spending two more nights in the cold for an uncertain day's work, we left. There are actually Americans who want these jobs - I'm one of them - but the process of finding the work is so incredibly frustrating that it's no surprise they've got a worker shortage. Try advertising through channels we use - CraigsList is a good start - rather than hand-writing a cardboard sign in bad Spanish and taping it to the gate of your orchard. Altogether, trying to help out was a rough experience for this American in need of work.

Doug    
Raleigh, NC  |  November, 14, 2011 at 09:49 AM

Tyler, good luck, and if you and your girlfriend are willing to do the work, industry people who read The Packer will find you. What a sad commentary that a roadblock to your finding employment is that fact that you speak English!

Tyler    
Portland, OR  |  November, 13, 2011 at 12:03 AM

My girlfriend and I went to WA to try and work as soon as we heard about this. The biggest problem is that the Hispanic foremen at the orchards either don't understand you, or don't want to hire you because you're a white person and they don't take you seriously. There were other problem, but as someone who needs money, I spent several days looking for work in the area and found nothing. If that guy's still offering $150 a day, give me his address. I am still in the area and would love to help, but I can't flipping find him.

Doug    
Raleigh, NC  |  November, 14, 2011 at 09:51 AM

Discontinue unemployment benefits for any able-bodied American who refuses seasonal agricultural work - that will put a lot of workers at your disposal.

jAOCB    
dENVER  |  December, 05, 2011 at 02:08 PM

i THINK THE ENTIRE SHORTAGE ARGUMENT PRESENTED BY THE GROWERS WAS NO MORE THAN A PLOY TO FORCE THE GOVERNMENT TO INCREASE THEIR FLEXIBILITY IN ALLOWING FOR MASS ENTRY OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS. WITH AN OVERABUNDANCE OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS, THE GROWERS CAN CUT BACK WAGES, AND NEED NOT WORRY ABOUT RIGHTS. THERE WERE NO $150 A DAY JOBS. WHAT A SHAM. AT $150 A DAY, i COULD OF PROVIDED ENOUGH HARD WORKERS WILLING TO PICK ALL THEIR APPLES, and i would have been the first. I now believe this whole story of shortages was nothing but deceitful misdirection for political play.

Judith    
lacey Wa  |  December, 26, 2011 at 11:35 PM

My daughter and grandson would have loved to pick apples if they had known about the labor shortage. They still need work. Is there any work right now?

sigmond    
north idaho  |  August, 22, 2012 at 05:44 PM

Is this America? Lets all solve this together and make some money. Contact me and we can get started right away. There is a disconnect somewhere and this is a great country with some creativity behind this we can all make it work... Having prisoners pick apples is a cop out in my opinion. The WorkForce approach clearly does not work or something was not said. I would love to pick apples, blueberries, in late summer and why not. If there are enough people and the process is dialed in it can be a win-win for all. Like round the clock shifts and a festival at the end. yeah. Some people know this....

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