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Farm Bureau highlights Washington farm’s labor shortage

An American Farm Bureau Federation video spotlights the plight of a Washington farm that had too few pickers to keep up with the zucchini.
Don Jenkins

Capital Press

Published on October 13, 2017 10:53AM

Last changed on October 16, 2017 10:30AM

Farmer Burr Mosby says in the Farm Bureau video that he and his wife, Rosella, were forced to plow under 20 acres of zucchini because they couldn’t find enough labor.

Farm Bureau TV

Farmer Burr Mosby says in the Farm Bureau video that he and his wife, Rosella, were forced to plow under 20 acres of zucchini because they couldn’t find enough labor.

A new American Farm Bureau Federation video features a Western Washington farm to highlight a national labor shortage and the organization’s push for a more flexible guest-worker program.

In the 1-minute, 43-second video, a tractor plows under zucchinis in King County grown by Burr and Rosella Mosby. They said they abandoned the 20-acre field, easily losing $100,000, because they didn’t have enough workers.

“We’ve never had a year like this year,” Rosella Mosby said Thursday in an interview with the Capital Press.

The Farm Bureau has been warning that growers will have to let produce rot in the fields because they won’t have enough workers. The shortage this year hit the Mosbys, who grow vegetables on 350 acres in King and Pierce counties south of Seattle.

The Farm Bureau favors a guestworker program administered by the USDA that allows workers to enter the U.S. on short-term visas and hire out to the farm of their choice. The H-2A program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor is rigid, burdensome and nearly impossible to use, according to the Farm Bureau.

The Mosbys rely on domestic workers, many of whom work elsewhere in the winter. Rosella Mosby said that the farm has been short of workers for many years, but this was the first time in 40 years that the shortage was severe enough to force abandoning a field.

She said the farm was about 25 workers short. The zucchinis in the 20-acre field grew too large for commercial use before they could be harvested.

“The hotter the day, the faster it grows,” she said “It should have been a stellar season.”

Mosby said the farm has about 25 year-round employees and needs approximately 75 seasonal employees. About 25 teenagers from the area were hired to weed, she said.

“They were awesome,” she said. “The problem is it didn’t fill our needs.”

The farm needed more adults who aren’t limited in the jobs they can do or the hours they can work, and stay on in the fall. Mosby attributed the shortage to a strong Puget Sound economy. “I think they’re all doing other jobs,” she said. “I think there are just better opportunities.”

Mosby said that she’s not heard from her employees that fear of the Trump administration is keeping workers away.

“I would not be so quick to blame Trump. I think it’s been coming for awhile,” Mosby said.

Mosby said workers at her farm have family and friends in Mexico who would like to join them for seasonal work, but can’t get visas. “I think we need more options,” she says on the video.

Mosby said the farm may resort next year to the H-2A program. An obstacle will be finding the required housing for the foreign workers, she said.

Mosby said she’s looking at options for temporary housing. Obtaining a septic permit for a barn took three years, she said. “So building housing quickly will be a joke.”

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