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October 7, 2013

Not Enough Workers to Harvest the Crops

For more information on Newsline, contact: Kari Barbic, Media Specialist, American Farm Bureau Federation, karib@fb.org.

While Congress bickers back and forth about the budget and the debt ceiling, they’re not dealing with other issues important to the country. Michigan farmers Fred Leitz, Ryan Walsworth and Dean Johnson talk about why immigration reform is one of those issues. AFBF’s Johnna Miller has the story.
Miller:It’s been a tough year for many fruit and vegetable growers. The stalemate in Congress has left a lot of uncertainty about the future of immigration reform. At the same time farmers worry if they’ll have enough workers to harvest their crops. Michigan growers like Fred Leitz have already had to deal with a worker shortage.
Leitz:We normally have about 250 people seasonally and we only have about 195 or so right now. We only harvested our blueberries twice and we left probably two really good pickings out there. Then in the cucumbers we’ve harvest five or six times when normally we’ll harvest 10 times. So we’ve left probably a third of our production in the cucumber fields just because we haven’t had the labor to keep up with everything.
Miller:Asparagus grower Ryan Walsworth had to leave vegetables unharvested, too.
Walsworth:We had a freeze early on and that kind of pushed our season late and then after we got going then we got quite warm there in a hurry. Typically with asparagus your best production is early in the season. So a lot of farmers got caught where we didn’t have enough labor to get everything off. Some guys thought maybe a million and a half or two million pounds may have been lost either because of well the weather extreme, but then not having the labor there to pick it, too.
Miller:And with apple harvest underway, Dean Johnson says he’s hopeful he’ll find the help he needs, but it’s not a sure thing and the current seasonal worker program, called H-2A, won’t help.
Johnson: It’s all hand labor, hand harvested and about 3,000 boxes we need labor for. But it’s really too late to use the H-2A program. H-2A is a program we used for many, many years, but it’s so complicated. We would actually start doing the paperwork in January in order to get our crews here in July for cherry harvest. I mean it took us that long to get through the system. You’ve got to go through Homeland Security. You’ve got to get them here. There’s just got to be a simpler way of doing it.
Miller:Johnna Miller, Washington.
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