LANSING, Mich. — Grower-shippers will need a lot of workers to pick a big apple crop this year, but the chance to pick a lot of high-quality apples should attract them.
Labor looms large this season, particularly given the large amount of fruit on trees, said Diane Smith, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee.
“The crop is only as big as the number of workers growers can find to pick it,” she said. “It’s a big concern for us.”
The apple industry keeps a close eye on the other Michigan produce deals that come before apples as a gauge on available labor, Smith said.
On the whole, labor availability for crops like asparagus and blueberries has not been able to meet demand in many areas.
So far this summer for apple growers, it’s been a mixed bag.
“I’m hearing both. Some are having a little bit harder time, others say they’re doing good.”
Don Armock, president of Sparta-based Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc., said he’s not worried about having enough hands to pick this year’s crop.
The company has raised wages to attract workers. In addition, the prospect of not having to climb a ladder to pick fruit on newer trees is a big draw for workers who get paid by how much they pick.
“They can pick a lot of apples,” he said.
After the devastating losses in 2012, workers drifted to other states to find work, and heading into this season, there was concern over whether they’d find their way back to Michigan, said Pat Chase, salesman for Sparta-based Jack Brown Produce Inc.
As of early August, though, those fears were proving largely unjustified.
“It’s still a concern, but I think it’s improving,” Chase said. “It seems to be a better flow than the last three or four years.”
Good quality and big volumes have a way of doing that, said John Schaefer, Jack Brown’s president.
“Hang a big crop on the trees, and the news travels south faster than the Internet,” Schaefer said. “It’s one of the best advertisements for labor.”
Tom Curtis, president of All Fresh GPS, agrees.
“I haven’t heard anyone say they don’t have enough labor,” he said.
“We’re putting ads out for packing help, and we’ve had a lot of inquiries.”