Labor Shortage Looms as Cherry Harvest Approaches

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WENATCHEE- The Cherry harvest is poised to get underway soon but growers concerns about a possible labor shortage could spell trouble for the industry again this season.

Chelan County Commissioner Doug England, who also manages the Manson Fruit Growers  coop says the shortage will mostly impact smaller farms that don’t employ migrant pickers with Federal H2A work visas.

“It’s a popular program but it’s very complicated and very expensive,” England said. “There are a number of growers right now that are very concerned.”

England said a number of growers have been able to use workers who have come in early for cherry harvest.

“There are a number of people that are finding now that their crews from California are not going to be coming up, some of their Washington crews are not going to be coming over from the other side,” England said. “There is a concern with the small growers for that third of the workforce that they really need to have.”

England said the workforce shortage last year hindered the harvest significantly.

“There’s an estimated 5,000 people in the basin right now doing nothing but cutting fire blight,” England said. “But they’ve notified people that as soon as cherries start, which will be in earnest this next week, that they will be leaving them so that will put added pressure on.”

England said the job is getting done, but the workforce is not adequate.

“There will be a lot of un-thinned orchards, we hope that doesn’t carry over to harvest,” England said.

Meanwhile, the County’s State-run Cherry Worker Tent Camp at Monitor is starting to fill up as the Cherry harvest is expected to start next week in the Wenatchee area.