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Worker shortage may force apple growers to leave some fruit behind

Andrea Parrish
Apples going in want of pickers in Washington state.

Across the Northwest, apple growers are having a hard time bringing in their harvest because of a worker shortage. The result may mean certain lower-priced varieties of apples don’t get picked at all.

Beau Van Winkle is a third generation Wenatchee-area fruit grower. He says this year it’s been frustrating to get his 75 acres of apples through the frost, through the bugs and unusually cool weather only to have the pretty fruit sit on trees unpicked.

Some farmers have been raising their wages to draw in workers, and many growers are trying to help each other, Van Winkle says.

“Crews around us here, if say they have a few days off they come help me. If I have a few days off, my guys have been helping people,” Van Winkle says.

Van Winkle says overripe apples can bruise and are hard to store. He says this harvest is challenging because, for example, other crops haven’t come in on time so the workforce is still picking pears.

Also, since the season is so late, many migrant workers have already left to their winter homes like California. And rain has delayed work on some orchards because the aluminum ladders are too slippery.

Copyright 2011 Northwest Public Radio

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.