Labor Issues and Employment Practices on New York Apple Farms
Baker, Paul; DeMarree, Alison; Ho, Shuay-Tsyr; Maloney, Thomas; Rickard, Bradley
The primary purpose of this study is to gather information from commercial apple farm employers to benchmark employment practices and document labor issues related to the 2013 growing season. Further, the study identifies management responses to labor challenges that apple growers currently face. In January 2014, 580 surveys were mailed to New York apple growers. A total of 95 usable surveys were returned and summarized. Nineteen percent of survey participants had more than 250 acres bearing acres. Slightly less than half of those surveyed (48%) employed seasonal H-2A workers and 24% reported using a crew leader. Specific job requirements for seasonal workers include speaking English, avoiding bruising, lifting a minimum amount of weight, and climbing and descending a ladder with a picking bag. Survey participants also reported requiring experience for specific tasks such as pruning, thinning, sprayer operation, tractor and driving. Apple growers reported two types of wage payment methods; hourly rates and piece rates. Hourly rates average between $10.80 and $11.40 per hour for fresh apples. The average piece rate for fresh apples ranged from $18.30 per bin to $28.30 per bin depending upon the difficulty of picking. Thirty six percent of those surveyed reported they were short of workers in 2013 resulting in both late-harvested fruit and un-harvested apples. Estimated crop losses due to labor shortages for survey participants in 2013 totaled over $7 million. When asked how their business has changed as a result of labor pressures, the top three business changes growers implemented as a result of current labor pressures were the adoption of labor efficient planting systems, reducing production acreage and greater reliance on the H-2A Program.