Late apple harvest, worker shortage stresses growers

11/07/2011 08:37:00 AM
Tom Karst

In general, growers would have like to have 15% more workers on harvest crews than what they have been able to secure, Steensma said.

“Some guys are worse situations if they have huge ranches of fujis. They could probably use hundreds of pickers,” Steensma said.

The causes behind the labor shortage are multiple, industry sources said. Part of it was the fact of a later-starting apple harvest, Steensma said.

While some growers assumed the season would catch up with normal timing, that never happened. “We stayed two weeks late through the whole deal,” Grim said.

“Normally we start the first or second week of August, but we really didn’t get going until Labor Day,” Steensma said. Growers may have come early but then decided to find work in California or some place else, he said.

In addition, undocumented workers may not be traveling to find work as they used to, Steensma speculated.

Grim said the industry has not seen the number of pickers it normally experiences. “It doesn’t matter if you are talking about a larger grower or a small growers, they are all mentioning the fact that there are not enough people around,” Grim said.

Grim said some have speculated that increased talk about immigration enforcement has kept workers away from available jobs.

Growers have had little luck using the state’s employment service called WorkSource. One organization Grim talked to said the company recently received 186 referrals through the WorkSource office. Of those 117 called for an interviews, of which 94 were hired. Only 17 showed up to work, Grim said and only five are still working at the farm.

Market impact

Grim said the harvest weather has been good through September, October and early November for harvesting fruit with good internal condition.

However, the biggest effect from the shortage of workers may be evident in fruit quality later in the storage season, Steensma said.

“There was a period of time where we were four to five days behind what we would like to be, and so that puts a little behind the curve of where we wanted to pick and pack and store,” he said.

While the fruit will be picked, he said that fruit originally expected to be marketed in May could be marketed out of controlled atmosphere storage in January.

“I think the galas and goldens are in good shape, but we started getting behind in the late anjou harvest (and) red delicious and it started compounding,” he said.



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Amy Monnin    
Ohio  |  November, 08, 2011 at 09:39 AM

You could go to the High Schools and recruit young people to pick. Here in Ohio Many of the farmers employ Youth on their farms for things like bailing hay and straw, working with livestock, ect. Not sure if this is an untapped source for you or not. Just a suggestion.

Adrianne Campbell    
Santa Rosa Beach, FL  |  November, 08, 2011 at 01:05 PM

Do they advertise for workers on Craigslist?

jACOB    
DENVER  |  November, 09, 2011 at 10:25 AM

i WOULD HAVE GONE TO WORK AS A PICKER FOR $150.00 A DAY IN A SECOND HAD i KNOWN ABOUT THE OPPORTUNITY. Is there still time to get a job as a picker. `12 hour days are fine with me. Even though I do not have any experience, I do not mind hard work. Honestly where do I apply?

jACOB    
DENVER  |  November, 09, 2011 at 10:26 AM

i WOULD HAVE GONE TO WORK AS A PICKER FOR $150.00 A DAY IN A SECOND HAD i KNOWN ABOUT THE OPPORTUNITY. Is there still time to get a job as a picker. `12 hour days are fine with me. Even though I do not have any experience, I do not mind hard work. Honestly where do I apply?

Tyler    
Portland, OR  |  November, 12, 2011 at 11:58 PM

When we heard about this, my girlfriend and I went looking for work picking apples in Washington, and were unable to find any after several days of searching (and camping in the cold, as we had nowhere to stay). WorkSource refused to help us, as we do not live in WA. Without speaking Spanish, there's no way to talk to the people you meet in the fields, and when they do understand you, they don't think you're serious about working because you're a white person. When we finally found a foreman who (skeptically) agreed to let us work, we were told the next morning that it was "too cold to pick today", and that we should come back on Monday. Disgusted with the idea of spending two more nights in the cold for an uncertain day's work, we left. There are actually Americans who want these jobs - I'm one of them - but the process of finding the work is so incredibly frustrating that it's no surprise they've got a worker shortage. Try advertising through channels we use - CraigsList is a good start - rather than hand-writing a cardboard sign in bad Spanish and taping it to the gate of your orchard. Altogether, trying to help out was a rough experience for this American in need of work.

Doug    
Raleigh, NC  |  November, 14, 2011 at 09:49 AM

Tyler, good luck, and if you and your girlfriend are willing to do the work, industry people who read The Packer will find you. What a sad commentary that a roadblock to your finding employment is that fact that you speak English!

Tyler    
Portland, OR  |  November, 13, 2011 at 12:03 AM

My girlfriend and I went to WA to try and work as soon as we heard about this. The biggest problem is that the Hispanic foremen at the orchards either don't understand you, or don't want to hire you because you're a white person and they don't take you seriously. There were other problem, but as someone who needs money, I spent several days looking for work in the area and found nothing. If that guy's still offering $150 a day, give me his address. I am still in the area and would love to help, but I can't flipping find him.

Doug    
Raleigh, NC  |  November, 14, 2011 at 09:51 AM

Discontinue unemployment benefits for any able-bodied American who refuses seasonal agricultural work - that will put a lot of workers at your disposal.

jAOCB    
dENVER  |  December, 05, 2011 at 02:08 PM

i THINK THE ENTIRE SHORTAGE ARGUMENT PRESENTED BY THE GROWERS WAS NO MORE THAN A PLOY TO FORCE THE GOVERNMENT TO INCREASE THEIR FLEXIBILITY IN ALLOWING FOR MASS ENTRY OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS. WITH AN OVERABUNDANCE OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS, THE GROWERS CAN CUT BACK WAGES, AND NEED NOT WORRY ABOUT RIGHTS. THERE WERE NO $150 A DAY JOBS. WHAT A SHAM. AT $150 A DAY, i COULD OF PROVIDED ENOUGH HARD WORKERS WILLING TO PICK ALL THEIR APPLES, and i would have been the first. I now believe this whole story of shortages was nothing but deceitful misdirection for political play.

Judith    
lacey Wa  |  December, 26, 2011 at 11:35 PM

My daughter and grandson would have loved to pick apples if they had known about the labor shortage. They still need work. Is there any work right now?

sigmond    
north idaho  |  August, 22, 2012 at 05:44 PM

Is this America? Lets all solve this together and make some money. Contact me and we can get started right away. There is a disconnect somewhere and this is a great country with some creativity behind this we can all make it work... Having prisoners pick apples is a cop out in my opinion. The WorkForce approach clearly does not work or something was not said. I would love to pick apples, blueberries, in late summer and why not. If there are enough people and the process is dialed in it can be a win-win for all. Like round the clock shifts and a festival at the end. yeah. Some people know this....

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