Soaring labor costs push West Michigan fruit growers to the brink

While many farmers today are turning to automation to meet their production needs and save on labor costs, Crossroads Blueberry Farm LLC likes to ensure a large percentage of its crop is picked by hand. The reason: Blueberries picked the traditional way by farm worker hand labor stay in better shape on market shelves, said Luke DeHaan. He added: “Quality standards have increased in stores substantially in the last three years. They expect great quality and we feel that hand labor is the best way to do that.”

In Michigan, blueberry season runs from July to September. To keep up with the harvesting schedule, DeHaan hires foreign agricultural workers on temporary H-2A visas to get the job done.

As West Michigan farmers grapple with spiking labor costs, bipartisan federal legislation is proposing some temporary relief. The central issue for many farm operations across the region hinges on labor cost increases for agricultural workers in the country on temporary H-2A visas. The federally mandated minimum hourly wage for H-2A workers in Michigan spiked 12.8% for 2023, on top of other higher processing fees that the Biden administration has proposed for farms using the program.


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