U.S. Farmers Facing Labor Shortages
Wednesday, January 17, 2007; 4:21 AM
ALBANY, N.Y. — Farmer Jim Bittner wanted to add thousands of peach trees to his 500-acre fruit farm last year, but canceled his order, concerned about whether he’ll have enough hands to harvest the crop.
A grower of apples, peaches and cherries northeast of Buffalo, Bittner said he needs to see what type of immigration package comes out of Washington this year _ and how it will affect farm laborers _ before making any major changes.
“Peaches have to be hand-pruned and hand-harvested,” he said. “This past harvest time I didn’t stop worrying that I wouldn’t have help every morning. We’re just holding tight to see what happens.”
Although labor shortages have had the widest impact in places nearer to the U.S.-Mexican border, like California and Texas, Northeastern farmers have also been forced to adjust. Growers went to Washington last week to campaign for a new Senate bill that would create a guest worker program to grant as many as 1.5 million farm laborers legal status to keep working in the United States.