Skilled Labor

Skilled Labor

Some Washington apple growers are having feelings of deja vu this year. Growers are hoping to see one of the biggest crops ever but some are also worried about having enough skilled laborers to finish harvesting. Todd Fryhover, Washington Apple Commission President, says Washington’s apple production is expected to be around 109 million bushels, which puts growers here in a dominant position in the nation’s markets, as a warm early spring followed by killing frosts severely crippled apple crops in the nation’s other major apple growing areas. But the shortage of skilled pickers may put a damper on what should be a celebratory mood in Washington orchards right now.

FRYHOVER: People have the perception that harvesting apples is an unskilled labor force. This is in fact not true. It takes a lot of stamina, hard work, and perseverance to harvest those apples. I would encourage anybody who has the opportunity to go on out there, find that back yard tree, and spend the day harvesting those apples. You’ll feel it in your shoulders, in your back, in your hands. It’s hard work. It’s skilled labor.

The labor shortage problem can not be fixed for this year’s crop, but what about next year?

FRYHOVER: I think that H-2A is one solution that’s not perfect by any means, but it is an attempt towards a larger solution. The Washington apple industry uses approximately 38 thousand seasonal workers. H-2A cannot provide 38 thousand seasonal workers - maybe three thousand workers. So somewhere down the road, hopefully sooner rather than later, before we have a huge catastrophe in this industry, we need to address immigration in a larger scheme that some of these ag programs that do help the growers increase the amount of people that are willing to harvest our fruits.

I’m Lacy Gray and that’s Washington Ag Today on the Ag Information Network. 

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