Utah County Cherry Farmers Struggling To Find Workers
PAYSON, Utah – As the 2021 cherry harvest season quickly approaches, fruit farmers in Utah County said they have had a tough time finding workers to process the cherries.
Every time Robert McMullin heads out into his field, he can feel it.
“There’s nothing better than nature,” he said as he picked through some cherry trees. “It just makes my soul feel good to just be able to walk out and go in the orchard.”
McMullin owns McMullin Orchards in Payson.
He said he’s happy with his crop of cherries this year, but he’s not sure what’s going to happen next.
“Yes, we’re worried,” said McMullin. “Thank goodness we don’t have as big of a crop as we normally do.”
McMullin said he’s worried about having enough workers this season.
Cherry farmers in Utah County are getting close to harvesting and processing time. However, like with many industries, they’re struggling to find workers. We’re doing a story on this for @KSL5TV at 5 and 6. #ksltv @UtahFarmBureau pic.twitter.com/tF7NtJnLca
— Alex Cabrero (@KSL_AlexCabrero) June 25, 2021
He has enough workers to harvest the cherries, including using a mechanical harvester, but he said he can’t find enough workers to process them.
In the past, fruit farmers have relied on high school students or adults looking for a little extra money to do the job, which lasts about three weeks. This season, those same workers have not been applying.
“This year, with a 2.5% unemployment rate in Utah County, and they’re paying 12 bucks an hour at McDonalds, you know, it’s just getting tough,” said McMullin.
Many industries, like restaurants and fast-food places, have also struggled to find workers this year.
To make things even more challenging, Curtis Rowley with the Payson Fruit Growers, said the government work visa program that farmers use for migrant workers in the field doesn’t apply for those workers who do the processing inside.
“This year, we’re just really struggling to find the help that we need,” said Rowley. “I know that they’re trying to get to 500 people to help in the plants, somewhere in that 500 range. We’re way below that. We’re hundreds below that right now.”
It means either fewer high-quality cherries going to market because the processing will last longer, or some of those cherries just won’t be processed in time and go to waste.
Since the next harvest and processing is two to three weeks away, McMullin said there is still time to find workers. However, in the past, he has already had most of his workers lined up by now.
“We do the best we can and we leave the rest. That’s all we can do,” said McMullin.
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