Michigan labor supply becomes bigger concern - The Packer

Michigan labor supply becomes bigger concern

09/02/2011 11:20:00 AM
Chuck Robinson

SPARTA, Mich. — As Michigan’s apple harvest approaches, growers said they’ve grown increasingly anxious that a tougher immigration climate across the country will hamper their ability to find sufficient workers to bring in the crop.

Georgia’s new immigration law appears to have contributed to a reduced flow of migrant workers heading to northern parts of the country for fall harvests, Michigan agriculture representatives said. Growers said they haven’t seen as many “drive-ins” — carloads of workers — as they typically see this time of year.

“There are some indications … that the labor isn’t there,” Pat Chase, salesman for Sparta, Mich.-based Jack Brown Produce Inc.

“That could be a real problem with the rest of agriculture, not just Michigan apples. It’s a little unnerving.”

Critical need

A sufficient supply of migrant labor is critical for Michigan apple growers, whose crop is almost entirely hand-harvested. Unpicked apples deteriorate after reaching peak condition and eventually drop to the ground, costing growers income.

Migrant workers from Mexico and other countries harvest about 1 billion Michigan apples every year, earning about $12-15 an hour, according to an industry trade group. Michigan agriculture employs about 45,000 migrant workers every year.

“The No. 1 concern of growers in Michigan is availability of labor,” said Denise Donohue, executive director of the DeWitt-based Michigan Apple Committee.

“We need skilled workers to handle this.”

While Michigan growers may make it through this year’s harvest, they say the longer-term labor outlook is growing increasingly difficult amid sentiment among federal and state lawmakers toward tighter immigration enforcement.

Georgia’s law, which took effect in July, carries penalties for harboring or transporting illegal immigrants in some situations and allows law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of suspects who can’t show an approved form of identification. Also, private employers with more than 10 workers must eventually use a federal database called E-Verify to check the immigration status of new hires.

E-Verify legislation

In Michigan, state Rep. Dave Agema, a Republican from Grandville, introduced legislation in January that would require state government employers or contractors to use E-Verify for each new employee. The law, if passed, wouldn’t apply to Michigan growers, Agema said. A hearing on the bill is scheduled for Sept. 13 in Lansing.

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Barbara G.    
Washington state  |  September, 02, 2011 at 08:27 PM

These apple farmers need to modernize and upgrade their farms. There happens to be apple harvesters on the market that will eliminate the need for illegal migrant workers. So why haven't the farmers looked into using these harvesters??? I live in Washington state which grows a lot of apples and the farmers here do the same as the ones in Michigan refuse to mechanize. They simply refuse to invest in modern equipment. I as a consumer would prefer to have my apples picked with a machine

Michigan  |  October, 13, 2011 at 04:48 PM

@Barbra It is clear to me that you do not know much about apple production. Apples have to be harvested with care. You say that you would like apples harvested by a machine, but I know that you wouldn't like to purchase bruised apples from your grocer. I also know that you wouldn't like to pay an increased price because of all the waste that would occur when bruised apples are sorted out leaving us with a short supply. Further, Michigan prides itself on having family run operations, and has a lot of small scale apple orchards. Many orchardists with smaller operations cannot afford the expense of new equipment. I grew up on a Michigan Apple orchard, and I know that guest workers are both skilled and hard working. No machine could replace that, and quite frankly, I wouldn't want one to.

Texas  |  November, 03, 2011 at 09:02 AM

Hey, I've got an idea! Why not hire some of the 14,000,000 U.S. citizens that are out of work?

Roy S.    
Howell, NJ  |  November, 03, 2011 at 09:26 AM

I see here the article states, "Migrant workers from Mexico and other countries harvest.... earning about $12-15 an hour, according to an industry trade group." So the apple industry is paying people $12-15 an hour to pick apples and given our current unemployment rates, they cannot find sufficient labor. Can this possibly be true? Forgive my skepticism but this seems strange to me.

connecticut  |  November, 03, 2011 at 10:22 AM

Sadly, the US has not effectively addressed this issue & again we are faced with a crisis. Having lived in Switzerland & witnessed their "Guest Worker" program which supplys that country with needed workers I ask : WHY are we so inept with this issue?

Texas  |  November, 03, 2011 at 10:24 AM

This article is interesting and contained one big surprise for me. I had no idea that apple pickers make $12-$15 an hour. That's $4-$8 more than what I make on my job! Like most Americans I was under the impression that businesses and farms wanted illegals for cheap labor, but $12-$15 an hour doesn't sound cheap to me. And it makes me wonder why Michigan apple growers are facing a possible labor shortage even if illegals aren't as available as they were in the past. Perhaps most people in Michigan don't know how much money they can make picking apples. What are apple growers doing to advertise these jobs? Yes, some Americans, even unemployed ones, do think certain jobs are beneath them. The claim that illegals are doing work Americans won't do is partially true; that's a fact opponents of illegal immigration, like myself, need to acknowledge. However, I know there are Americans willing to do this work. What about teenagers? What about Blacks, whose unemployment rate is twice the national level? Again, what are the apple growers doing to get the word out about these jobs? I bet if they tried harder they'd find more than enough Americans to pick those apples.

mi  |  February, 22, 2012 at 05:51 PM

Us people out of work wont pick apples i have tried to hire them.

Ohio  |  February, 08, 2013 at 02:30 PM

A lot of people stop looking for work the minute they get a job. The $12-$15 range is piece rate work. We have the same labor problem in Ohio. Locals will not work tobacco, tomatoes, etc. The answer is a guest worker program. Our neighbors that hire undocumented workers are ostracized by other neighbors but as my farming neighbors tell me the small family farmer's profit is slim. Additionally, their products when taken to markets are graded. Hence, when they do hire local workers, often not only are the locals slower (remember product needs to be picked before it is over ripened) but the product quality is lower. Thus, the farmers low grade product gets paid at a lower rate. A number of farmers around here go and buy the groceries for their workers to avoid some hate mongering by some locals.

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