Blueberry Wage Hike Pt 1

Blueberry Wage Hike Pt 1

Bob Larson
Bob Larson
With today's Fruit Grower Report, I'm Bob Larson. A recent decision by the state Department of Employment Services to raise the piece rate for hand-picked fruit 50% for H-2A workers has Washington growers on edge.

Washington Blueberry Commission Executive Director Alan Schreiber says the decision boosts the rate for his growers from .50 to .75 cents per pound ...

SCHREIBER ... "There's not enough money, not enough margin in fresh picked blueberries to absorb a 50% increase in the cost of labor. If the new, higher rate, .75 cents a pound, becomes the industry standard it will, overnight, wipe out the conventional blueberry fresh market."

Schreiber says a judge is scheduled to decide this week whether or not to uphold the wage hike...

SCHREIBER ... "If he upholds it, I suspect what will happen is the H-2A worker will cease picking and we'll lay off every worker."

So, is mechanization the next step? ...

SCHREIBER ... "People are already trying to pick fresh with machines, but it's very limited. We just don't have the technology to pick fresh. Less than 10% of the fresh industry is picked by machine because it just, the fruits too fragile for it."

And, Schreiber says that doesn't leave a lot of options for those berries ...

SCHREIBER ... "So, what will happen with a lot of these blueberries that are being picked fresh will go on the processed market? They'll put machines in and pick them for the processed market."

Tune in tomorrow and find out more about this H-2A wage hike and what might happen if our blueberries are redirected to the processed market.


BL: Welcome back to another "Fruit Bites" brought to you by Valent U.S.A. With us again is Valent's Allison Walston. And this week Allison, tell me how you know when to harvest apples and pears.

AW: they must reach maturity based on several types of tests, like firmness, starch in apples and sugar content. Fruit size and color are also considered. Some orchards might need multiple harvests because of staggered maturity.

BL: how is fruit firmness measured?

AW: there's a handy little pressure gage that measures the force to stab thru the flesh of a peeled part of the fruit. As ethylene increases & the fruit matures, the firmness decreases. Growers want firm enough fruit to handle storage but soft enough to ripen and eat.

BL: sounds like a narrow window (or any dad joke about that)

AW: about 7 to 10 days to harvest optimal fruit before the fruit quality begins to decline. That's why growers can use PGRs to shut down the ethylene production and extend the harvest window.

BL: Well, thanks Allison. Join us again next time for Fruit Bites, brought to you by Valent. Until then, I'm Bob Larson.

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