State cancels ag labor shortage estimates

The state of Washington has canceled the only monthly measurement of seasonal agricultural labor shortages right when tree fruit growers are concerned about having enough pickers for large cherry and apple crops.
Dan Wheat

Capital Press

Published on June 18, 2014 11:58AM

WENATCHEE, Wash. — The state Employment Security Department has canceled its monthly agricultural surveys and reports right when Washington’s tree fruit industry is worried about potential labor shortages.

The monthly report has included an estimate of seasonal agricultural labor shortage based on surveys of agricultural employers. The last report, in April, showed a 14.3 percent worker shortage, the highest in seven years and alarmed industry organizations.

The May report normally would be issued in mid-June, but Gustavo Aviles, a manager in the department’s Labor Market and Performance Analysis, said monthly reports have been canceled due to budget cuts. Despite previous cuts, the department needs to reduce spending more in this and future years and is doing so, he said.

Some information on agricultural employment will continue to be included in quarterly Census of Employment and Wages reports and an annual agricultural workforce report, he said.

The monthly agricultural report was the only survey of seasonal agricultural employment in the state and the only one with any reading on the shortage of labor, said Kirk Mayer, manager of the Washington Growers Clearing House Association in Wenatchee.

“It’s good to have regular updates so people can see trends and prepare. I’m disappointed it’s been canceled,” Mayer said. “Agriculture is a large industry. I don’t know if they are cutting reports in other industries or not.”

The only gauge of labor shortages now will be the number of worker requests employers file with the department’s county WorkSource (employment) offices and anecdotal reports from growers as they experience shortages, he said. Not all growers experiencing shortages file worker requests with WorkSource, he said.

Mayer said Dan Fazio, director of the Washington Farm Labor Association, is concerned about the loss of the reports. Fazio could not be reached for comment.

Mayer noted a new Employment Security Department Farm Work Group, formed by the Legislature earlier this year to discuss solutions to ag-labor issues, meets July 9-10 at Central Washington University in Ellensburg.

Growers and industry organizations have been concerned about having enough pickers and other workers especially with harvest of a near-record cherry crop underway and a possibly record large apple crop to harvest this fall.

So far there doesn’t appear to be any shortage of cherry pickers, James Michael, promotions director of Northwest Cherry Growers in Yakima, has said.

Luis Granados, a picker in Chelan, said June 9 that cherry labor was good. He said pickers were coming up from California, where a light crop left pickers without work.

The department’s monthly agricultural report included trends in seasonal agricultural employment by commodity and region. It estimated the percentage of labor shortage based on a survey of 2,000 out of 6,000 agricultural employers in the state. A questionnaire went to 250 large employers and 1,750 smaller ones asking if some work didn’t get done because of lack of seasonal workers and how many more workers employers could have used.


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