ALPINE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) - Local growers are worried about not having enough people to pick this year's apple crop, blaming last year's failed crop and continued unsolved immigration problems.
Kent County apple grower Mark Youngquist said he needs about 34 workers. Early Thursday, he had only three. He says migrant workers aren't returning to Michigan.
"We've been concerned for quite a while with getting the labor," he said.
Three people is good compared to a few weeks ago when Youngquist had no workers, no calls for work and no hope.
"We've had just a handful of our regulars showed up and now we are starting to get calls and some other farms have their needs met, I think," he said.
Michigan is supposed to produce more than 26 million bushels of apples this year, which should bring down the price you pay at the grocery store.
But not if they don't get picked. The problem is that there was no work for the migrant workers last year when a early spring warm spell followed by a cold snap killed 90% or more of many fruit crops. So the workers went somewhere else.
"Geographically, they've ended up maybe east or west," Youngquist said.
Growers say the other problems are immigration laws. Youngquist said the apple industry need immigration reform:
"Everyone needs immigration reform, but the more important thing -- and you could argue this because I am a fruit farmer and I need labor -- you can deport these people or give them legal statuses or let it continue on as is, and to me that's gone on long enough," he said.
He wants anyone who is here illegally and working to be able to do so legally -- whether that means full citizenship or a work visa.
"This nation needs to know where its food supply is coming form and we wouldn't feed ourselves without these people," Youngquist said.
Apple picking should start in the first week of September. Farmers will need to find workers before then.
Luckily, Youngquist managed to sign 32 employees after speaking with 24 Hour News 8.
We get a brief break from the "lake-effect machine" Friday.
A few flurries occurred Thursday night. Lows held in the teens and the wind relaxed to the 5 to 10 mph range, with 20s at the Lake Michigan.
On Thursday, the medical examiner's office said CMU student Kelly Markatos died as a result of the eating disorder bulimia.