Plenty of asparagus, few workers to pick it

Discussion in 'News / Current Events' started by billwald, Jun 28, 2012.

  1. billwald

    billwald
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    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2018528816_asparagus26m.html


    ELTOPIA, Franklin County — Dawn breaks over the field as cutters bend to their work: stoop, slice, stoop, slice.

    As Washington's asparagus season draws to a close, growers have much to feel good about. Prices have been high all season, matching demand. The weather has cooperated, and the quality of the crop is superb. But as the last grass, as it's known, is cut from the fields, there is a distinct unease instead of a sense of celebration.

    Just as the industry has made a comeback after a decade of getting clobbered by cheap imports, growers left about 10 percent of the crop in the fields for the first time anyone could remember. And not for lack of market, or a decent price.

    "We just could not find the people to cut it," said Alan Schreiber, executive director of the Washington State Asparagus Commission in Eltopia. And it's just the beginning, growers fear, as the summer cherry harvest — predicted to be a record crop this year, and the most labor intensive of all — kicks into gear this week.

    Growers had trouble mustering the small crews needed to cut asparagus over the adagio rhythm of a 10-week season on about 5,000 acres. How will cherry growers muster the 40,000 workers they need to strip off their crop, typically in a 10-day sprint in most orchards?

    "I think we are all terrified," said B.J. Thurlby, president of the Washington State Fruit Commission and Northwest Cherry Growers.

    Nobody produces more apples and sweet cherries for fresh eating than Washington, which has a lot on the line with record crops expected in both this harvest season.

    "Will we be able to pick the crop? That is the billion-dollar question," Thurlby said. Actually more than that, with last year's apple crop worth an estimated record $1.4 billion, and cherries worth $367 million.

    Problem with a history

    The labor problem in Washington's $8 billion agricultural industry has been years in the making. Some 150,000 seasonal workers are needed to bring in the state's crops each year; only Florida, California and Texas employ more.

    For decades, Washington growers have depended on a largely illegal workforce, mostly Latino, to do the skilled, hand labor needed to tie hop vines on trellises, prune, thin and pick cherries, apples, apricots and pears, and divide, plant and cut asparagus, said Mike Gempler, executive director of the Washington Growers League.

    The dependence on Mexican labor throughout Washington's agricultural districts dates to the Bracero program initiated in 1942, in which hundreds of thousands of workers were brought through the 1960s by the U.S. government to pick crops.

    After Congress passed immigration legislation in 1986, including amnesty for illegal workers now living in the country, many Mexican families made the U.S. their permanent home. But the children of those families have gone on to other work.

    What is missing now is a workable government policy under which a legal, stable workforce willing to do the hardest tasks, such as cutting asparagus, is reliably and legally available, Schreiber said.
     
  2. Crabtownboy

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    This is a problem that is popping up in many places across the USA. Maybe we need a program allowing foreigners in for specific lengths of time to harvest crops.

    Remember in another thread the problems in the state of Georgia that are happening as a result of their illegal alien law?
     
  3. friendofyours

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    Do you by chance have the link for the thread to read about the problems in GA? Thank you.
     
  4. Crabtownboy

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    Here are a few links to the Georgia story:

    Georgia's New Immigration Law Leading To Crops Rotting In Farmers'
    www.outsidethebeltway.com/georgias-new-immigration-law-leading-...

    Jun 22, 2011 – A new Georgia immigration law is causing serious problems for Georgia's farmers.
    Crackdown on illegal immigrants left crops rotting in Georgia fields ...
    blog.al.com › The Wire › Business - Birmingham

    Oct 4, 2011 – View full sizeJeremy Gonzalez picks tomatoes on a farm in Steele, Ala., Monday, Oct. 3, 2011. Much of the crop is rotting as many of the migrant ...
    Georgia's Harsh Immigration Law Costs Millions in Unharvested Crops

    www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/.../georgias...crops/240774/
    Jun 21, 2011 – Thanks to the resulting labor shortage, Georgia farmers have been ... onions, melons and other crops unharvested and rotting in the fields.
    Georgia immigrant crackdown backfires - Reid J. Epstein - Politico
    www.politico.com/news/stories/0611/57551.html

    Jun 22, 2011 – Georgia's crops, Tolar said, are “already rotting in the field and falling off the vine. We've got blackberries that are mature. And when they're not ... Crops Rotting In Georgia Since Illegal Alien Farm Workers Fled State
    wonkette.com/.../crops-rotting-in-georgia-since-illegal-alien-farm-wo...
    Jun 23, 2011 – Crops Rotting In Georgia Since Illegal Alien Farm Workers Fled State ... to join chain gangs harvest crews before ALL the crops rot in the fields, ..

    Here are additional links to places other than Georgia:

    Farm owners, workers worry about immigration law's impact on crops
    gfvga.org/.../farm-owners-workers-worry-about-immigration-laws-i...

    Many of their crops are peaking right now, and they say they are desperate for pickers. Some farms have as few as half the workers they had last year.
    Gov. Chris Gregoire says apple-picker shortage growing dire ...
    www.oregonlive.com › Pacific Northwest News


    Oct 15, 2011 – Chris Gregoire says the shortage of apple pickers in the nation's top ... of you people posting here have actually picked crops for your living?
     
  5. Bro. Curtis

    Bro. Curtis
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    Why should people labor in the field for immigrant pay when they can sit around and collect welfare ?


    Simple.
     
  6. targus

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    And if Big Farming wants workers why don't they pay a wage that will cause people to accept the job?

    If the price has to go up then buyers can decide if they want to buy or not?

    Why should some industries be exempt from market forces and immigration law?
     
  7. LadyEagle

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    We should send Congress out to the fields to pick asparagus. Then maybe they would fix our broken immigration laws.
     
  8. Jon-Marc

    Jon-Marc
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    I can live the rest of my life without asparagus.
     
  9. billwald

    billwald
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    There is a program for agricultural workers but the paperwork is routinely rejected unless the applicant has signed on with a Mexican (or whatever) company that rips them off.

    This is an old American tradition. The Chinese men who built the railroads were supplied by labor companies in China which used them as indentured servants.
     
  10. Chessic

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    Couldn't agree more, except that I do believe in a "nanny state" in which some junk food is taxed. We already tax tobacco and alcohol, and junk food is just as unhealthy.

    I'm curious why these jobs can't be made to have more attractive work environments. I am not physically able to stoop and slice while carrying a basket of veggies all day in the 100+ degree weather. But if there were, say a small, lawn-mower style vehicle--like a mini combine--that picked asparagus, even a disabled guy like me might be able to do it. That's just an example, but the point is, the jobs can and should be made more appealing, with better wages and improved work environment.

    You're not going to attract many workers if you are offering backbreaking work, no benefits, and poverty wages.
     
  11. freeatlast

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    The answer is to deport all the illegals, about 20 to 30 million of them, which will open up construction jobs and others for those who are citizens and only allow workers in who will pick the crops and they return home after the season is over. Problem solved.
     
  12. Gina B

    Gina B
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    I don't believe they don't have workers. I just don't. I believe they don't have workers that will work under the table and get paid a ridiculously low amount.

    If the job is made known, people will work. I know soooo many who are perfectly willing to do that, some who have TRIED but machines or illegals are doing the work.

    I'm betting it's simply a ploy to make U.S. citizens look lazy and mean cuz plenty of people I know are perfectly willing to do that work and would LOVE the opportunity to do so! Heaven forbid we should ask for minimum wage though.
     
  13. Arbo

    Arbo
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    Oh... Just let them raise asparagus prices. If fewer people buy it, more bathrooms will smell fresher.
     

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