“We’ve very fortunate that we have a nucleus of people — second- and third-generation — who make their homes here.”
The workers who come and go, however, are fewer and farther between, Nardelli said.
“The transient who went state to state (harvesting produce), then went back to Mexico. We don’t see them like we did in the past.”
Nardelli is optimistic the labor situation will stabilize in coming years.
“I’m encouraged that Congress is on the right path to getting a good policy enforced,” he said. “We need people who are willing to do the physical labor of so many aspects of business.
“The average person doesn’t realize that the people carrying lumber for housing, cooking in our restaurants and doing the laundry when we stay in a hotel (are immigrants). That’s our work force, and not giving them a path to citizenship would be devastating to our economy.”
As for those who think illegal immigrants are stealing jobs from American citizens, Nardelli has an answer for that.
“We get very few unemployed electricians who want to harvest peppers, or unemployed factory workers who are willing to harvest,” he said.
Sufficient labor available for some
Casella agreed with Sheppard that there appears to be sufficient labor to pick the 2013 Jersey crops.
Graiff also is optimistic for his own farm, but he said for other Jersey growers, it could be a different story.
“We have a lot of guys who are year-round, but I hear there’s definitely a shortage,” he said. “It’ll be interesting when the blueberry guys come in. They need a big work force. I think you could see a huge shortage.”
John Formisano, president of Formisano Farms, Buena, N.J., agreed. One blueberry shipper Formisano knows needs 1,000 to 1,200 workers for harvest but last year got just 800. And this year isn’t looking any better.
“I don’t know what will happen when blueberries start,” he said. “Right now it’s alright. We’re in good shape. I have some men who have worked for me for 40 years, but they’re getting old like me.”
Tim Wetherbee, sales manager for Diamond Blueberry Inc., Hammonton, N.J., which had labor shortages in 2012, said it was impossible to predict what exactly would happen this year.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said. “When I see them in the yard, I’ll feel better. We’re cautiously optimistic.”