Video: Rotting fruit

By Jane Wells Correspondent
CNBC
updated 9/21/2006 4:34:14 PM ET 2006-09-21T20:34:14

It's not just spinach that could be disappear from your grocery shelves this fall. Some of your favorite fruit could also become scarce and more expensive because of a major labor shortage that's affecting fruit farms.

Jim Morford lost thousands of tons of his peach crop — even though he invested thousands of dollars this year to make the fruit bigger. It is bigger and that's not the problem.

Across the country farmers are complaining there aren't enough workers to harvest the crops, whether it's an immigration crackdown or better paying jobs in construction, this year a lot of pickers aren't showing up.

“This is what we had to leave," Morford says displaying a nice, big peach. They were just ripe for market, but we couldn't go on."

"We would like to have 90 workers, but are operating now with about 65.” says another farmer.

A shortage during the cherry harvest was a red flag for Washington farmers now preparing to pick their biggest crop — apples.

Some farmers say they have only half the crew they need.

The state has tried to help by seeking out nontraditional workers like housewives, high school students or people on welfare.

“The Response was minimal, people don't want to work,” says Larry Sanchez of the Washington Employment Security Department.

Rob Valicoff applied for legal documented pickers through the federal guest worker program, but it's taken three months to get through the paperwork.

“I've got 10 brand new bunkbeds for these workers. I want these people to have a good experience," says Valicoff.

Under that program he has to pay the workers' transportation and housing costs, tens of thousand of dollars,  but at least he has guaranteed help at a guaranteed price — something he doesn't have now.

“To just sit here day to day and wonder if you're gonna have somebody to step up and pick your crop ... that's ludicrous,” says Valicoff.

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