New York growers say labor issues and high costs top the list as potential challenges this season.
“The labor will be an issue this year,” especially because of a smaller apple crop, said John Williams, partner at Williams Farms LLC, Marion, N.Y.
“Without all the apples, a lot less people will be coming up here, so it could be a real challenge to get things harvested,” Williams said. “It’s concerning.”
Jason Turek, partner at Turek Farms, King Ferry, N.Y., agrees.
“Listening to other growers, it has been a challenge to get labor to farms on time and have enough,” he said. “We continue to lobby Congress for some sort of H-2A reform or guest worker program.”
However, because it’s a presidential election year, growers don’t see a chance for any major progress this year.
“Realistically, we don’t look to see much change on that front this year,” Turek said.
“H-2A is the best (option), and we’ve been using it for five years now,” said John Williams, partner at Williams Farms LLC, Marion, N.Y.
But Williams said that in those five years, he’s only gotten labor on time once.
“We need to do better than we’re doing now,” he said, noting that it’s a very political issue, and a controversial one.
Still, most are optimistic that some sort of solution eventually will come.
“We have seen changes,” said Maureen Torrey, vice president of Torrey Farms Inc., Elba, N.Y.
She said the company has been fortunate to have congressional leadership that has been willing to work on the problem.
“We’re getting things refined and addressed to make it more user-friendly,” she said. “They are working on it.”
Another issue is the rising cost of production and transportation, and the way the added expenses affect growers and shippers.
“The expenses continue to go up,” said Tim Richards, sales manager for Gill Corn Farms Inc., Hurley, N.Y.
“It’s frightening to look at the electricity bill,” he said. “There’s a huge output and a lot of investment before you ever recoup any of the cost,” he said.
Richards says finding the right price to combat these rising costs can be a challenge.
“There’s no guarantee what you’ll get for a box of product anywhere, and it changes daily. Somewhere there’s a break-even price, but it’s probably going to have to rise,” he said.
Torrey also reported concerns with rising transportation costs, including a possible toll increase for tractor-trailers on Interstate 90.
“That’s the only safe way to get to the eastern part of the country, and a 46% increase that you didn’t plan on is a major jump,” she said.
Hearings are planned around the state for the middle of July, Torrey said, and the company is working to inform elected officials about the effect the increase would have on businesses and on rural towns that could see increased truck traffic if freight gets directed around the higher-toll road.
“That’s really an issue with the safety in these small, rural towns,” she said.