Grower-shippers report few labor bottlenecks - The Packer

Grower-shippers report few labor bottlenecks

03/05/2010 03:44:41 PM
Jim Offner

Ample labor

Meanwhile, Texas’ onion growers and shippers say there will be plenty of workers available for the upcoming onion deal — perhaps mainly a result of the slogging economy.

“We’re in great shape for labor,” said David DeBerry, president of David K Deberry Inc., Edinburg. “Last year and this year both we’re turning people away every day.

Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc. reports a similar situation.

“We’re OK,” said Tracy Fowler, general manager of the firm’s potato and onion departments. “We have decent crews each year, but our crews are pretty loyal. That’s a topic in all our sheds, but we seem like we’re OK in Texas.”

The economy is an unmistakable factor, said Curtis DeBerry, owner of Progreso Produce, Boerne, Texas.

“We didn’t have any labor issues last year, and I foresee the same today,” he said. “It seems it’s decreased a little. As the economy has spun down, it seems there are more people looking for work There has been enough people to get the crop harvested and to market in a smooth and timely manner.”

The workers are not only available, but they’re also good at what they do, said Don Ed Holmes, owner of the Weslaco, Texas-based Onion House.

“That’s one thing here in the valley — we’ve been very blessed with labor,” he said. “A lot of people we get come from this area. People down in this area have a really good ag background and have a great work ethic. We’re very fortunate we have big labor pool here in the Rio Grande Valley.”

Tommy Whitlock, onion salesman for Pharr, Texas-based Grasmick South LLC, concurred.

“Labor out of South Texas is no problem,” he said. “In fact, we had more people looking for work than we’ve had in past years. I don’t think it’s going to be a problem this year. We have more people calling this year already.”

Labor may be more expensive this year, though, said Bill Burns, owner of Burns Farms Inc., McAllen, Texas.

“I expect there to be plenty of labor but at a higher price,” he said. “I don’t think there will be a shortage. We’d expect it to be higher-priced, although I couldn’t put a figure on it — certainly more than it has been the last few years.”

But, Burns said, his company does have one advantage.

“We can harvest onions with machines on at least half of our acreage,” he said. “Over the last three years, we’ve pretty well done that. It can’t be done in most of the valley, because most of the valley doesn’t have soil that allows that. But we can do it. We’re working towards that on our farm.”

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