CHELAN, Wash. – The apple harvest season is starting to wrap up across the Northwest. Despite record yields, many farmers had trouble getting their time-sensitive crop off the trees because of a short labor supply.
Grower representatives at the meeting said their regions saw a 10 percent to 30 percent labor shortage this season. Several talked of nearly empty labor camps near Wenatchee and Chelan. One said he and two others had to pick a 40-acre orchard themselves despite offering $12 per hour.
“It is frustrating that you hear of so many people out of work and unemployment, but yet there are help wanted signs up every mile of the road that you go through, through apple country here and we can’t get people to come out and do it," says Scott Dorsing, a grower on the Royal Slope in Washington. "From that standpoint it is really frustrating.”
Dorsing says mid-sized to smaller growers are having the most trouble. That’s because they’re too small to afford government labor programs which would allow them to bring migrant workers legally and also, sometimes they don’t have continual work to keep a crew with them through the entire season.
An aging skilled workforce, a more-dangerous Mexico/U.S. border and high fuel prices are some of the reasons why workers aren’t making it to Washington for apple harvest, growers say. Apple picking is seasonal work, and difficult. Workers have to climb ladders and be able to hold 40-pound sacks of apples on their chests for at least eight hours a day.
Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio