Late apple harvest, worker shortage stresses growers

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

Related content: Western Growers report underscores lack of labor.

A late apple harvest and a shortage of apple pickers has added short-term stress to the final weeks of the Washington apple harvest and added to long-term worries about labor availability for Northwest tree fruit growers.

One grower in Washington state reportedly has employed a limited number of low security inmates to help with the harvest crunch. The Seattle Times reported that 105 inmates from the Olympic Corrections Center in Clallam County started picking apples at a wage of better than $20 per hour the week of Oct. 31 at an orchard owned by Quincy-based McDougall and Sons. A company representative did not return a call for comment on the report.

Fujis, Pink Ladies and braeburn apples account for most of what fruit remains to be picked of the estimated 105-million-carton fresh apple crop in Washington, said Randy Steensma, president and export marketing director of Nuchief Sales Inc., Wenatchee. Steensma said Nov. 3 that growers were open to anyone who is willing to work as they struggled to put fruit under cover with the approach of cold weather. Harvest is expected to be wrapped up by mid-November.

Bruce Grim, executive director of the Washington State Horticulture Association, Wenatchee, estimated about 10% to 15% of the crop remained to be picked as of early November.

“It will be a push to the end,” said Grim. “I don’t think we had a year previous to this with such a short number of pickers.”

Grim said unofficial estimates of apple pickers typically used in the state at close to 50,000, give or take 10,000 workers. There are only about 3,000 H-2A guest workers used by apple growers, and he said many of those workers have started to return home.

To find pickers, some growers have offered to transport workers from Wenatchee to ranches in Chelan or Brewster. Signs near some orchards promise pickers $150 a day.

“Growers have been proactive with transportation and letting them know there is work up here,” Steensma said.

At the height of the shortage, more than 1,000 agricultural job openings were posted on the WorkSource system, said Rick Van Cise, communications manager for the Olympia, Wash.-based service.

Jon Warling, who runs Marjon Labor, an Othello, Wash.-based company that supplies farm labor to growers said growers are paying 10% to 15% higher wages this year compared with a year ago.


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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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