Capital press. (Salem, OR) 19??-current, September 22, 2017, Page 12, Image 12

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September 22, 2017
‘Reliability of workers is not the same anymore’
LABOR from Page 1
H-2A guestworkers in-
crease growers’ costs. Workers
often are paid piece rate but
their minimum wage is high-
er than state minimum wages,
and when a grower hires them
he has to pay his domestic
workers the same rate. Grow-
ers must advertise regionally
before applying to bring guest-
workers from foreign coun-
tries. Employers also must
provide them with housing
and round-trip transportation
to their home countries.
In Washington, apples are
a $2.4 billion annual crop.
Other labor-intensive crops
add billions of dollars more in
economic activity. The Wash-
ington Employment Security
Department says the number
of seasonal farmworkers aver-
ages about 54,000 per month
and hits more than 90,000 in
peak months.
But an estimated 50 to 70
percent of non-H-2A farm-
workers are in the U.S. illegal-
ly from Mexico and elsewhere,
according to industry and gov-
ernment sources. Enforcement
of immigration laws at the bor-
der and in the U.S., workers
returning to Mexico and work-
ers retiring or moving into oth-
er occupations are all cited by
labor experts as causes of the
labor shortage.
In the fi rst three quarters
of fi scal year 2017, Washing-
ton had 15,611 H-2A workers,
ranking fourth behind Geor-
gia, North Carolina and Flor-
ida, according to the U.S. De-
partment of Labor.
California, with 12,292
H-2A workers, ranked fi fth,
the only other Western state in
the top 10.
Nationwide, the Labor De-
partment has certifi ed 160,084
H-2A guestworkers in the fi rst
three quarters of 2017 com-
pared to 165,741 for all of
National outlook
Kerry Scott is program
manager of masLabor in
Lovingston, Va., the largest
provider of temporary H-2A
guestworkers in the nation.
The company also provides
temporary H-2B non-agricul-
tural workers.
Scott’s company has grown
from 600 to 700 clients three
years ago to 1,000 today and
provided 18,000 workers na-
tionwide this year. That’s up
from 15,000 a year ago.
“We’re on track to exceed
that next year. The pace of
growth is accelerating,” Scott
In recent weeks, Scott has
met with several large vegeta-
ble growers in Ohio, vintners
in Virginia and tree fruit com-
panies in Washington state,
all of which plan to use H-2A
workers next year, he said.
The company has supplied
about 500 H-2A workers in
Washington and will probably
double that next year, he said.
Washington is hurting, he
said, because it’s relied on mi-
grant workers from California,
and that supply is drying up.
The farmworker shortage
is nationwide, statistics show.
An estimated 730,800 season-
al and year-round farmworkers
were employed nationwide in
2016, according to the USDA
National Agricultural Statis-
piece rate, doesn’t use H-2A
and remains concerned about
the future.
In Caldwell, Idaho, Mike
Williamson said he had 15 to
20 workers to harvest his white
peaches, which was enough be-
cause the crop was lighter than
Other tree fruit and wine
grape growers “are able to
make it because of lighter crops
from spring frosts, but guys are
pulling from H-2A (visa for-
eign guestworkers) and from
jail work release and prisons so
there’s really not an oversup-
ply,” Williamson said.
A new state law three years
ago makes it easier for growers
to employ prison inmates.
Dan Wheat/Capital Press
Jose Guzman pulls picker tickets from d’Anjou pear bins before they are trucked to Independent Warehouse, Dryden, Wash., on Sept. 11.
Crews are busy and short pickers in the height of harvest.
tics Service. That’s down near-
ly 6 percent from 777,300 in
They were paid an average
wage of $12.98 per hour, up
from $12.54 per hour in 2015.
Last year, 157,500 were
in California and received an
average of $13.81 per hour;
68,800 were in Washington
and Oregon and received an
average of $13.90 per hour.
In the nation’s most produc-
tive farm state, Fresno County
Farm Bureau President Ryan
Jacobsen says the labor supply
was tighter — and earlier —
than usual this year, starting
with the asparagus harvest in
May and remaining that way
all summer.
“Numerical information is
very hard to come by, but from
the pulse on the ground this is
probably the tightest year in a
decade,” Jacobsen said. “As
the economy recovers and
people move into other sectors
and we don’t deal with immi-
gration on a federal level, we
continue to see tightening of
that supply.”
Daniel Sumner, director of
the Agricultural Issues Center
at University of California-Da-
vis, said he believes the labor
shortage is getting worse every
year. Harvest pressure is exac-
erbated by hot weather and by
several commodities that are
harvested at the same time in
different regions, he said.
The shortage is driving up
wages, but it’s still rare that
crops go unpicked because of
a lack of labor, Sumner said.
Jason Resnick, vice pres-
ident and general counsel of
Western Growers in Irvine,
which represents farmers who
grow about half the produce in
the U.S., agreed that labor is
tight and getting tighter.
“Our members have been
telling us anecdotally for a de-
cade now that the lack of labor
is pressing farmers, but over
the last couple of years it has
gotten much worse,” Resnick
Many workers are stay-
ing in Mexico as that nation’s
economy has improved and
more jobs become available,
he said. Farmworkers in the
U.S. are aging, and their chil-
dren aren’t interested in farm-
work, he said.
“The political environment
and rhetoric combined with
some of the enforcement ac-
tions taken by the federal gov-
ernment act as a deterrent as
well,” he said.
While California increased
its use of H-2A guestworkers
by 15 percent in the fi rst three
quarters of 2017 over the same
period last year, the program is
not for everyone.
“It’s notoriously slow, bu-
reaucratic, costly and unpre-
dictable,” Resnick said.
Use of H-2A is still “a frac-
tion of a fraction of a percent
in terms of total farm labor,”
Jacobsen said. “It’s not a great
solution for California agricul-
ture because it’s cumbersome
and it’s very diffi cult to target
in February your harvest need
in August.”
Many growers will get by
with planting less, fallowing
land, planting crops that can
be mechanically harvested and
moving production to Mexico
and other countries, Resnick
The Wenatchee River Val-
ley, which stretches 22 miles
upstream from Wenatchee to
Leavenworth, is touted as the
best micro-climate for growing
pears in the world. D’Anjou
is the top variety, but they are
dense and heavy, causing many
pickers to prefer picking ap-
ples, which weigh less.
In recent years, not all pears
have been picked. Growers,
particularly the last to harvest
in higher elevations at the head
of the valley, have increasingly
found it hard to fi nd pickers.
One of them, Dennis Nich-
olson, said he’s short pickers
but is getting help from neigh-
boring crews and the wives of
regular workers. His son also
took vacation time from his
regular job to help and people
with other jobs have been help-
ing on weekends.
“H-2A doesn’t work for the
small grower because we don’t
have the housing nor the capital
to pay the money they want,”
he said.
“Labor is tight but I’m in-
clined to say it might be a little
bit better than the last couple
of years,” said Greg Rains,
horticulturist and fi eldman for
Blue Star Growers, a Cashmere
Blue Star has a sign along
U.S. Highway 2/97 seeking
workers for a night shift. The
sign was up last year as well.
More growers share pickers,
and there are no days off for do-
mestic workers, Rains said.
A lighter crop and greater
use of H-2A guestworkers has
helped ease the shortage some
this year, he said.
“In the last fi ve years, we’ve
gone from zero to maybe as
high as 20 percent of our acre-
age in H-2A. That’s a guess,”
Rains said.
Nonetheless, piece rate
wages keep trending upward,
he said.
Pablo Avila, orchard man-
ager at Independent Warehouse
in Dryden, last year paid $23
per bin plus a $1 a bin bonus if
pear pickers stayed the whole
season. This year, he said, the
pay is $27 with a $2 a bin bonus
to stay the season.
“We are one of the high-
est but there are others paying
more,” he said, adding the av-
erage is about $25.
Avila said he has 35 pickers
and needs 70 to harvest the 80
“That’s pretty much the
same as last year and means it
just takes a little longer to get it
done,” he said.
Independent does not use
H-2A workers but is thinking
about it for next year, he said.
In Wenatchee, Stemilt
AgServices, a subsidiary of
Stemilt Growers that manages
more than 8,000 orchard acres,
used 750 H-2A workers a year
ago. It has built housing for
1,200 beds for H-2A and do-
mestic workers in the last three
to four years and will build that
much or more in the next three
years, Bob Mathison, company
board chairman, said.
His nephew and company
president, West Mathison, said
Stemilt AgServices has 1,000
H-2A workers and will hire a
few more next year depending
on the winter fruit bud analysis.
“We feel labor is tighter. It
was reported the unemploy-
ment rate is the lowest since
the inception of keeping county
records. It feels that way to us.
I believe the Central Washing-
ton economy is doing very well
and we are just running out of
people who want to work in all
sectors,” West Mathison said.
Farther north around Lake
Chelan, harvest labor is ade-
quate but there’s no surplus,
said Harold Schell, director of
fi eld services at Chelan Fruit
“Growers with H-2A have
supply, but guys without it are
sharing crews and just getting
by,” Schell said.
They also are helped, he
said, by the pear and Gala apple
crops picking short of the vol-
ume and size estimate.
“We’re at peak,” he said. “It
used to be with more Red Deli-
cious that (labor) peak was ear-
ly October but now with Hon-
eycrisp and Gala, peak is Labor
Day to mid to late September.”
The co-op was short 400
packers three weeks before
start of cherry harvest in June,
but met the need by advertising
in other states and paying high-
er wages, said Reggie Collins,
general manager.
In mid-September, the co-
op had enough packers but was
a month away from full oper-
ations. It was paying $12 per
hour, $1 more than it paid last
“We were 80 to 100 peo-
ple short at this time last year,
so I’m feeling better about it
now,” Collins said.
In Othello, Paula McKay,
manager and principal owner
of Mar-Jon Labor, the region’s
largest farm labor contractor,
said it’s been “a lot harder” to
fi nd the 2,100 workers she’s
needed this year.
“Reliability of workers is
not the same anymore. Since
there’s a shortage, workers take
advantage of it and move back
and forth between employers
depending on who is paying
more,” McKay said.
She paid the state minimum
wage of $11 per hour for weed-
ing but other contractors paid
$11.50 to $12 and at times she
lost a third or more of her crew
to them, she said. Onion top-
ping was her biggest shortage,
she said.
“We did get the job done
for our growers but at a slower
pace,” she said.
Growers who normally
have 80 domestic pickers had
no more than 15 this year,
McKay said.
Oregon and Idaho
In Oregon’s Willamette
Valley, Doug Krahmer, a St.
Paul blueberry grower and for-
mer state Board of Agriculture
member, said there’s no excess
but that he had enough workers
this season and believes other
berry and hop growers did as
“I think it’s about the same
as last year but it seems bet-
ter only because I expected
worse,” he said.
He’s appreciative that as
many migrants showed up
from California as did, he said.
A grower since 1980,
Krahmer has about 500 acres
of blueberries, pays average
Solution elusive
For years, representatives
of labor-intensive agriculture
have lobbied Congress to help
provide a legal and more stable
workforce through immigra-
tion reform.
In short, growers want legal
work authorization for illegal
immigrants who make up 50 to
70 percent of their workforce.
They also want a more respon-
sive and less costly foreign
guestworker program.
But political divisions in
Congress over that and broader
aspects of immigration reform
leave growers wondering if it
will ever get done.
“I’ve played the D.C. game
where you go back and talk to
all the politicians and my head
got bloodied and sore against
that brick wall and I’m not go-
ing to do it anymore,” Krahmer
“Someday, we won’t get our
crops harvested and you would
think consumers will pressure
Congress to do something be-
cause growers haven’t been
able to get it done,” he said.
“It’s like a teeter-totter. Up
one day and down the next.
We’re all hopeful our country
will fi gure this out and want ag-
riculture to be profi table to feed
those we need to feed,” Collins
Western Growers’ Resnick
said it’s hard to rate the chances
of immigration reform in Con-
“We have spoken to many
members in Congress who rec-
ognize the need to pass immi-
gration reform measures that
will address the current and
future labor needs of farmers,”
he said.
Previous efforts have failed.
Western Growers’ president,
Tom Nassif, was instrumental
in negotiating the agricultural
segment of the 2013 Senate im-
migration bill with the United
Farm Workers union. It failed
in the House.
Kerry Scott, of masLabor,
said he’s not optimistic about
the chances of immigration re-
“We have been waiting, es-
sentially since 1986, for Con-
gress to do something com-
prehensive,” Scott said. “If
anything, it’s getting harder and
harder for Congress to tackle
big problems.
“There’s talk about Con-
gress and everyone coming
together to help the hurricane
victims of Houston and now
Florida. That it might be a step
in the right direction. And now
(President) Trump working
with Democrats, but I don’t
know how long it will last.”
Antiquities Act permits presidents to establish national monuments Over past 3 months most areas west of
Area in
Original monument boundary
Newly expanded boundary
10 miles
Zinke’s report notes that
roughly 16,600 acres of the
Cascade-Siskiyou National
Monument consist of O&C
Lands “harvest land base.”
However, the timber industry
claims 40,000 acres of O&C
Lands within the monument’s
boundaries should be open to
The American Forest Re-
source Council, which rep-
resents timber companies,
alleges a resource manage-
ment plan that limits harvest
to those 16,600 acres violates
the O&C Act, said Lawson
Fite, the organization’s gen-
eral counsel.
Though it’s uncertain
whether the Trump admin-
istration would remove all
40,000 acres from the mon-
ument, or just 16,600 acres,
AFRC is encouraged the ex-
pansion is being scrutinized,
he said.
Cascade-Siskiyou National
Monument expansion
MONUMENT from Page 1
“We think that by in-
cluding any O&C lands in
the monument, the previous
president overstepped his au-
thority under the Antiquities
Act and violated the O&C
Act,” Fite said.
The Antiquities Act per-
Kl a m a
Alan Kenaga/Capital Press
mits U.S. presidents to es-
tablish national monuments,
but whether later admin-
istrations can shrink their
boundaries remains a point of
Zinke believes that Trump
can make such revisions, cit-
ing 18 such changes made in
the past, but monument sup-
porters argue that an attempt
to decrease the Cascade-Sis-
kiyou’s boundaries would be
“It would be a sad waste
of the Department of the In-
terior’s resources and taxpay-
er money,” said Dave Wil-
lis, executive director of the
Soda Mountain Wilderness
Council, an environmental
Zinke’s report wrongly in-
dicated that motorized travel
within the monument is pro-
hibited and that hunting and
fi shing are disallowed, Willis
It’s unclear whether these
errors were due to sloppiness
or an attempt to spur support
for reducing the monument’s
size, which is opposed by a
wide swath of the public, he
“It looked like pretty
shoddy work,” Willis said.
Rockies have been extraordinarily dry
DROUGHT from Page 1
The USDA reported this
week that irrigated crops in
Washington continue to do
well, though other crops are
showing signs of stress. Some
40 percent of pasture and
rangeland was described as
“very poor,” according to the
The reservoirs that sup-
ply irrigators in the Yakima
River Basin held 114 percent
of the normal amount of wa-
ter for this time of year, the
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
reported Sept. 14. Streams
statewide, however, are start-
ing to show the effects of the
summer. Some 43 percent of
the streams monitored by the
U.S. Geological Survey were
running below normal Thurs-
day, up from 16 percent one
month before.
In Oregon, most livestock
were being fed hay because of
poor pasture conditions, the
USDA reported.
In Idaho, 19 percent of
the state is in drought, while
8 percent of California is in
drought. The fi gures were
little changed from the week
said that over the past three
months most areas west of the
Rockies have been extraordi-
narily dry, but that pattern is
expected to change.
Odds are that Washington,
Oregon, Idaho and California
will be cooler and wetter than
normal for the last two weeks
of September, according to
the U.S. Climate Prediction
The center warned that
temperatures in the four
states probably will be much
below normal on Sept. 19-
23. Unusually heavy rains
are expected in southwest