Being faced with labor shortage during the asparagus season, Oregon produce company Owyhee Produce decided to make a video on the popular video-sharing app TikTok. The idea was to create awareness about the subject of labor shortage in the agricultural industry and what it means for a produce company having to throw away about $160,000 worth of perfectly fine asparagus that was ready to make its way to the end consumer. The video went viral, leading up to almost 3 million views in a week’s time.
Backlog at USCIS
The labor shortage is due to a combination of a backlog at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), COVID-19 and the current border issues. “We hope we will get our workers in soon but USCIS told us it could easily take up another 30-45 days,” Shay Myers, CEO of Owyhee Produce explains. “Meanwhile we have found some local workers who help us out.”
“Because of this labor shortage – which hasn’t occurred in the past 20 years - the first seven to ten days of our total 10-week asparagus season are now gone. The first so called flush of asparagus is about 20 percent of the total volume which we now missed out on,” Myers explained. ”We will get the season going with some local labor that we were able to find on short notice, but training will be required. Asparagus picking is not as easy as it looks and requires specific skills to harvest.”
Asparagus picking event
“Last week when we gained so many views on TikTok we decided to come up with an asparagus picking event for the local community to avoid putting all that beautiful product to waste,” Myers explained. “We never thought it would lead to such a big event with as many as 6,100 people picking and preventing about 100,000 pounds of asparagus going to waste. To ensure a smooth event everyone was asked to schedule an appointment through a booking tool on Owyhee’s Facebook page, which worked out fine,” Myers noted.
Myers is hopeful their labor shortage ends soon with new workers arriving in time for the final part of the asparagus season as well as the upcoming watermelon season, which usually starts the end of June.
Social media farmer
Myers entered Owyhee Produce on social media seven years ago. His main goal is to educate and create awareness. “We aim to show both retailers as well as the general public what it takes to get a crop from the field to the store and cover all subjects from putting the seed into the ground, to irrigation, labor and packaging." At this moment, Myers produces around 5 videos a week which he puts on a variety of different platforms.