A plea went out to farm labor contractors across the eastern U.S. today, looking for workers to fill out the harvest crews of Michigan's shorthanded apple growers. Hot off the press of Michigan Farm Bureau's (MFB) print shop, a batch of "help wanted" postcards are already headed to more than 300 registered farm labor contractors, mostly in the southeastern states of Florida and Georgia.
"Depending on what we hear back, and when, we might have to expand our search to other parts of the country," says Ken Nye, MFB's horticulture and forestry specialist. "We've got the next six weeks, give or take, to get this year's outstanding apple crop off the trees and into bins, to processors or fresh market retailers, or into storage."
A survey of growers begun last week by apple industry groups confirmed what had been feared and forecast since last summer—that seasonal workers are in short supply, threatening farmers' hopes for a thorough harvest of their fruit-laden trees. The situation is rooted in the weather-wrought devastation that meted out unprecedented losses to Michigan fruit farms in 2012. With little if any fruit to harvest here last year, seasonal workers sought work elsewhere, and in large part didn't return.
"We've been monitoring things throughout the year as best we could, as our labor-intensive vegetable and fruit crops matured and harvests progressed from one crop to the next," says Craig Anderson, who manages MFB's Agricultural Labor and Safety Services Department. "Unfortunately, when we're talking about seasonal workers—in a country where the political climate is increasingly hostile toward immigration—it's tough to get a bead on it. Solid, reliable data can be a slippery fish, and we can wind up where we are now: looking down the business end of a huge apple harvest without enough workers to pick them."
Working in coordination with the Michigan Apple Committee, Michigan Agriculture Commodity Marketing Association (MACMA) Processing Apple Growers and the State of Michigan's Migrant and Seasonal Farm Worker Program, MFB designed, printed and mailed postcards to farm labor contractors registered with the U.S. Department of Labor. Farm labor contractors include individuals or businesses that recruit, solicit, hire, employ, furnish, transport and otherwise coordinate migrant or seasonal farm workers.
"Really we're just trying to get their attention—let them know that there are hundreds of well-paying jobs available right now in Michigan," Nye says. "It's a big ol' 'help wanted' sign—a direct appeal to a select group of people whose business it is to match available workers with available jobs."
For more information or to explore existing job opportunities on Michigan apple farms, visit www.michaglabor.org
or the nearest Michigan Works! Association service center