Michigan asparagus farmers need workers to harvest early crop

Apr 10, 2012

Michigan’s asparagus season has started early because of the warmer than usual weather this spring. But farmers are worried they don’t have enough workers to harvest the crop.

“Being a former migrant worker I can tell you that in the past Michigan has had a wealth of workers coming to Michigan. It was destination state,” Belen Ledezma said. She’s the Director of Migrant, Immigrant and Seasonal Worker Services for the Michigan’s Workforce Development Agency. 

Ledezma says the huge crop diversity in Michigan means migrant workers have a variety of jobs to choose from throughout the year. But this year farmers are struggling to find enough workers to harvest. “I think we’re starting to recognize that the same labor pool that we’re used to is no longer coming to Michigan,” Ledezma said.

Ledezma says the state is trying to help farmers recruit local workers to harvest asparagus. Her agency will host a job fair in southwest Michigan on Thursday in hopes of filling more than 220 immediate openings on asparagus farms.

“We have a hard time sometimes attracting workers into a situation where the schedule is unknown as it in asparagus,” said John Bekker, President of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board.

Bekker says asparagus can grow a half an inch an hour in good conditions. So the window to harvest it can be only hours in some cases. That means workers have to have a super flexible schedule that also depends a lot on the weather.

Here’s more details from a press release about the job fair.

Asparagus Industry Job Fair on Thursday, April 12, 2012, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at St. Joseph Parish Hall, 2349 W. Jackson Rd. in Hart, Michigan.

The typical asparagus season in Michigan runs from mid-April through June. 

Michigan asparagus, unlike asparagus from other states, is hand-snapped above the ground, yielding a more tender and flavorful product.  Workers harvest the asparagus while riding specially-designed picking carts.  The job is physically demanding, and workers must have the ability to sit in a bent position for long periods of time, the strength to lift up to 25 lbs., excellent reach and coordination, and a willingness to work outdoors in all kinds of weather. 

Asparagus workers typically are paid on a piece rate, with skilled harvesters earning more than $10.00 an hour.  Workers are guaranteed to make at least Michigan’s minimum wage of $7.40 an hour.