Economy
5:00 am
Mon August 12, 2013

Labor shortage hits state's growers

Credit morguefile

Michigan's fruit industry went from famine to feast in a year's time.

Hard freezes in the spring of last year wiped out many of the state's fruit crops.

But this year, growers are having trouble finding enough workers to pick the ample harvest.

Migrant labor is scarce all around the country because of tighter immigration policies, says Craig Anderson is with the Michigan Farm Bureau.

"Due to number of states implementing e-Verify, for example, or state-based enforcement initiatives, those families that traditionally traveled have chosen to stay where they're at," Anderson says.

He says some fruit growers are reporting a 50 percent labor shortage.

He says that could lead to fewer products in the markets and an increase in prices.

"The biggest challenge we face with other seasonal industries, such as tourism and hotel/restaurant, is that in Michigan we're pretty much all looking for seasonal labor at the same time."

Anderson says agricultural labor is demanding, specialized work.

"The hand-harvest jobs take an incredible amount of skill," Anderson says. "It requires dexterity, coordination and the ability to rapidly select harvest without bruising it. They have to move baskets and ladders -- and it can get heavy. And of course, we're outside, so we work in the elements."

Anderson says many growers pay more than the state's minimum wage of $7.40 an hour.

"The Midwest average field work wage was $9.30 an hour, but individual piece rates can earn in the $12-$14 range," Anderson says.