This is why the US needs migrant labor visas.
Antonio Leduc doesn’t understand why Michigan is offering emergency housing assistance to migrant farm workers this summer.
He, for one, has plenty of work available picking blueberries at his farm in Paw Paw, yet the state is offering housing assistance to migrant workers elsewhere who can’t find enough work picking cherries or other fruits devastated by spring frosts.
The word got round about the frost damaged crops this year in Michigan and less workers made the trip north.
"We’ve got blueberry crop falling on the ground," he said. "I’ve never seen so many workers quit in one summer. I realize the picking is not that great, but it does have to be picked."
He’s even increased the pay 10 cents per pound to 52 cents, in reflection of the fact that help is hard to find this year.
Leduc has only around 90 workers this year, whereas he would normally have 250.
Meanwhile, migrant workers are struggling to find work and housing in other parts of the state that typically pick fruits like cherries or other crops that were destroyed by this year’s freakish weather.
The Michigan State Housing and Development Authority recently allocated $172,000 of its revenue for emergency housing assistance for migrant workers. They can receive a one-time payment of up to $400 to cover rent either at a migrant camp or other rental property to tide them over until late summer vegetables and apples are ready to pick.
Leduc believes that many workers have decided that it’s easier to take the benefits than it is to work. However, Craig Anderson, agricultural labor manager at Michigan Farm Bureau, points out that the reality is more complicated that this.
he says that whilst there are areas, like Leduc’s, where there are crops to harvest, there are other areas, where there are none, or few.
"The challenge is putting those two together," Anderson said.
For one, there are regulatory requirements for posting job openings through the state workforce agency, including securing a job clearance order. Also, it can be difficult to advertise opportunities to pick certain fruits or vegetables, only for those job seekers to arrive and see the crop has been picked or no more jobs are available, he said.
The logistics are tricky as well. For example, workers who typically travel to the Traverse City area stay busy in the summer picking cherries before moving onto late-summer vegetable harvests. Workers are still needed to do limited preparation work for the vegetables while the cherry harvest is still underway.
So if those workers were to travel down state for the blueberry harvest, they’d be putting the vegetable farmers in a difficult position, Anderson said.
"We struggle every year with pockets of over supply and under supply," he said. "We really don’t have a good communication system out there that would help."