Labour shortage leaves Florida’s oranges to rot

Via The Guardian Unlimited
July 10, 2006

Millions of oranges will rot on the trees of Florida this year because
a shortage of fruitpickers has been aggravated by fears about more
stringent US immigration laws, local media reported yesterday.

“There’s
very little doubt we’ll leave a significant amount of fruit on the
tree,” Mike Carlton, the director of production and labour affairs at
Florida Citrus Mutual, told the newspaper The Ledger. “Whether that’s
3m boxes or 6m boxes, nobody can say.”

Growers have reported difficulty finding
enough workers. Industry officials say labour problems got worse in the
middle of May, when a large segment of the Hispanic labour force seemed
to leave the state.

They
said reports of an immigration crackdown made it difficult to find
Hispanic workers, who make up much of Florida’s farm workforce.

“Really,
the labour shortage is what held us up this year,” said Dave Crumbly,
the vice-president of fruit control at Florida’s Natural Growers in
Lake Wales, the nation’s third-largest citrus processor. He said word
had spread through the Hispanic community that they should return home
if they wanted jobs in the US in future. The workers were told they
could get deported if they remained in the country, he said. But if
they returned home, they would become eligible for a guest-worker
programme that is part of the immigration reform bill.

“In
reality, the current guest-worker programme bars anybody who has been
in this country illegally,” Mr Carlton said. There are still tens of
millions of oranges on Florida’s trees, according to the US department
of agriculture, one of the highest totals on record, he added.

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