For fruit farmers, main concern is not labor, but oversupply of crops
By Kayla Deneau
While area blueberry farmers expressed labor concerns over a shortage in migrant workers at the beginning of harvest, recent evidence suggests the shortage was short-lived.
An area camp that houses more than 150 workers has been full for about three weeks according to resident worker estimates, and they said they have not heard of shortages at other nearby camps.
One worker from Florida, who did not wish to be named, said the earlier shortage may have been caused by workers arriving a few weeks later than last year, as the harvest lasted longer at their previous location.
“Sometimes we come earlier, sometimes we come later, but we all come mostly at the same time,” he said.
This was his second year at the camp.
A woman from Florida said her family of four has been coming to the camp for 10 years. She also had not heard there were labor shortages but said the people who come to the camp have changed significantly over the years.
“It used to be mostly families,” she said. “A lot of people don’t come back because the inspector does not want big families here; the less kids the better.”
The camp is composed of many tiny houses and several trailers for everyone to live in. The woman said housing the children was one of the biggest issues because it cut down on room for workers.
David Guevara of Living Water Migrant Ministries in Fennville explained that two or more families would sometimes be in one house. He said they would fit as many in the house as they could.
Mark Longstroth of Michigan State University Extension said it has been around a month since he has had a grower complain about the lack of labor.
Prices, however, were another story; they have dropped due to the abundance of berries this year.
“Many are losing 10 cents on every pound they pick after they pay the workers,” Longstroth said.
According to Longstroth, growers are picking peaches now and apples in about a month. With workers here, labor shortage is no longer the main concern. Falling prices are becoming an issue due to the large supply driving prices down.
Guevara translated workers’ response for this story. Contact Kayla Deneau at email@example.com or at (269) 673-5534.