HART, Mich. — Most Michigan growers expect to have adequate labor to pick this year’s crops, though troubles loom as long as Congress doesn’t act on immigration reform, they said.
As of mid-May, labor seemed to be adequate for Michigan asparagus picking, said Tyler Hodges, sales manager for Hart-based Todd Greiner Farms.
The fact that many fruit crops in Michigan will go unpicked because of the devastating late April freeze could, however, deter some workers coming to the state, which could affect labor for vegetable crops, Hodges said.
Based on how U.S. harvests were faring through mid-May, Brian Bocock, vice president of product management in the Grand Junction, Mich., office of Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC, expects adequate labor for the Michigan blueberry harvest, which should start for most growers about June 24.
“So far, the crops in the Southeast have had good labor, and we expect that here, but there’s always a concern until you actually get into harvest,” he said.
Unlike Washington, Michigan didn’t have a burst of warm weather that brought the crop on too quickly for growers to line up pickers.
Finding enough labor is always a concern, said Fred Leitz, principal in Sodus-based Leitz Farms LLC. And it will continue to be a concern, he said, until the U.S. Congress does something about it.
“We’ve been taking this to D.C. for 10 years,” Leitz said. “They need to do something. It’s a shame that’s it’s costing a bunch of hard-working people a bunch of angst.”
The problem has gotten so bad, Leitz said, that many Michigan growers have become one-issue voters.
“Most growers are not going to support anyone who won’t help them fix this problem,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re Republicans, Democrats or independents.”
An uptick in the Michigan construction industry could limit the amount of workers available to pick vegetables this summer, said Dave Miedema, president of Byron Center-based E. Miedema & Sons.
“There seem to be a few more jobs around, and a few less workers,” he said.
“We’re in much better shape than we were last year,” said John Bakker, executive director of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board, DeWitt. “At this point, we don’t anticipate any problems.”
Michigan growers provide many incentives to lure pickers, Bakker said. Housing is good, and most pickers are paid based on how much they pick.
“A lot of them make really good money,” he said.
Originally, some Michigan asparagus growers were set to begin harvest in mid-April, thanks to an unusually warm March.
Had that happened, said Todd DeWaard, sales manager for Hudsonville-based Superior Sales, finding enough labor could have been a challenge.
But when cooler weather in April pushed asparagus harvests back closer to their usual start times, that potential problem vanished.
“I haven’t heard of any problems” finding workers this spring, DeWaard said. “It doesn’t seem like we have the issues other states have had.”
Workers who normally pick fruit in Michigan could instead be available to pick the state’s vegetable crops, DeWaard said.