Apple producers in need of pickers at orchards

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Washington apple growers are in search for pickers to help fill millions of boxes.

 

The state is the number one apple producer in the country and they do not have enough people to help.

 

If the growers don’t find pickers, they fear that millions of dollars in apples could be left unpicked.

 

Tim McLaughlin told KIRO 7 Eyewitness News that he is thankful for the help at his family-owned orchards in Wenatchee, but needs more.

 

“We’re thankful they’re here, and we need more of them,” said McLaughlin.

 

McLaughlin said that he needs 200 more pickers at this orchard alone and other apple growers throughout Eastern Washington.

 

Apple growers have had a hard time finding workers among the non-migrant families living in the area.

 

“We just have trouble getting our U.S. citizens on ladder,” McLaughlin said.

 

In Chelan County, the jobless rate is 7.3 percent and in Yakima County, it is at 10 percent.

 

An apple picker could make nearly as much in one day as the average $377 they draw a week from unemployment.

 

Dan Kelly represents apple growers in the state, and he said the shortage of pickers couldn’t come at a worse time.

 

“We’re going to pick a lot of apples, but are we going to pick what we’ve got out there?” said Kelly.

 

This year may be a record crop, and because of poor harvests elsewhere in the country, demand is high.

 

“We’ve got a great crop as far as quality, condition and all that, and at the end of the day, you’re relying on labor and labor’s not there,” Kelly said.

 

Kelly is worried the labor problem may get worse as immigration laws, violence on the Mexican border and high gas prices make it harder for migrant workers to travel here.

 

McLaughlin said he and his fellow growers need another kind of labor boost from the federal government.

 

“We’re constantly working with our congressional leaders to help us with a guest worker program to alleviate some of this pressure. We really need that,” said McLaughlin.

 

“Help Wanted” signs are found throughout the area, and growers say a guest worker program is a politically hot topic, especially with an election year even though it won’t come in time to help bring in the current apple harvest.

 

Orchard managers said they only hope more people hear that they need help.