Expanded use of H-2A labor, a longer picking season and more efficient planning of labor needs may be reasons to be optimistic that the big apple crop can be harvested in good shape, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt Growers LLC, Wenatchee, Wash.
The lateness of last year’s season made for a shorter harvest window. This year, Pepperl said this year’s crop may be as much as 14 days ahead of last year’s pace. The longer picking season should result in a less compressed picking schedule, leaving growers time to handle each variety.
And while growers want immigration reform that would allow existing migrant workers to have legal status and provide a less expensive guest worker program, he said the use of the H-2A program will increase.
“The reality is that we’re putting some H-2A into our programs and I know we are not alone,” said Pepperl. While the paperwork and expense of H2A make the program difficult to use, a substantial number of growers have signed up for H-2A workers, he said. That will relieve some pressure at harvest time, he said.
Mike Gempler, executive rector of the Washington Growers League, Yakima, said there will be a slight increase in the use of the H-2A guest worker program in the state, with a few more growers trying the program and others expanding the number of workers. Last year, about 3,100 H-2A workers were used by fruit growers in the state. Out of that number, about 2,700 were used by three employers, he said.
Growers don’t know if they will face a labor crisis this fall, Gempler said. “We won’t know until it is over, but there is going to be a lot of pressure on the labor pool.”
Newhouse warned that many of the factors relating to movement of immigrants from Mexico and between states are still in place.
For Newhouse and others in Washington, the wolf that visited in 2011 and is likely to make an appearance this year points to the necessity of getting an immigration system that works.
The bite marks from last year show that is not just growers crying wolf.