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Washington's Asparagus Farmers Face Labor Shortage

ELTOPIA, Wash. – Washington asparagus farmers are plowing out giant fields during what should be the prime of their harvest season. That’s because there is a shortage of migrant farmworkers this year.

To cut asparagus, workers have to hunch and shuffle as they slice the spears from the earth with a sharp knife. Still, usually plenty of people are willing to do it.

But Jim Middleton can’t get 15 acres of his asparagus North of Pasco harvested this week. He says other farmers are taking out their asparagus fields for good.

“We weren’t expecting to have a labor shortage this year, at least I wasn’t," Middleton says. "We’ve been tight for the last five years or so but we’ve always been able to find enough, maybe just barely enough –- until this year.”

Asparagus harvest is often an indication of how much labor will be available later in the growing season. A recent Pew Hispanic Center study says Mexican immigration to the U.S. has dropped sharply in part because of the down economy and stricter federal immigration enforcement.

On the Web:

Pew Study:

http://www.pewhispanic.org/2012/04/23/net-migration-from-mexico-falls-to-zero-and-perhaps-less/

Jim Middleton is a asparagus farmer north of Pasco. He’s had to disk under 15 acres of asparagus in the hopes he can get someone to help harvest next week. Photo by Anna King
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Jim Middleton is a asparagus farmer north of Pasco. He’s had to disk under 15 acres of asparagus in the hopes he can get someone to help harvest next week. Photo by Anna King

Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.