Concerned about labor
Mark Rice, like almost every other commercial fruit grower, is concerned about his future labor supply. Rice needs about 100 workers during harvest, and about 30 in winter for pruning.
“This has been a popular destination for migrant farm workers,” he said of Adams County, where R & L Orchards is located. At least 1,500 people are needed to harvest the county’s 5 or 6 million bushels of apples over about seven weeks. Rice pays piece rate for fall harvest, but pays by the hour for all other farm labor, including harvest of peaches and late-summer apples such as Gala and Honeycrisp. Pruning is always by the hour. “I want to avoid bad pruning cuts,” he said.
Working mostly from the ground, pruners use long-arm loppers, pole saws, hand saws with high-quality blades, and Felco 7 pruners. The tops of taller trees are handled using hydraulically positioned bucket platforms. Workers are supervised closely when pruning.
R & L has been diligently investing in its farm worker housing facilities. With a housing capacity of more than 100 in four camps, it is a real financial burden, he said. “Good housing conditions are a point of pride for me, but also may become necessary if the indigenous farm worker population continues to experience serious attrition, and we end up with only the option of using a federal program to import labor. Then, good housing will be absolutely a necessity, especially in view of the intensified regulatory scrutiny we could expect.”
In 2010, he invested a half million dollars in one of the facilities, upgrading all systems and adding four 1,100-square-foot manufactured homes which house seven men each. “It was no day at the beach getting through the regulatory swamp,” he recalled.