Fruit Growers Turn To Technology to Ease Labor Woes

AP, Dec. 6, 2005

WENATCHEE, Wash.—Stymied in efforts to ease labor problems through a guest worker immigration program, Washington state orchardists have been advised to seek relief through technology.

“Labor costs are going up and availability is going down. It’s quite likely that the availability will continue to go down. This is where technology can help us,” said Bob Brammer, president of Crane & Crane Inc. of Brewster, at the Washington State Horticultural Association’s 101st annual meeting that began Monday.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, told the 1,400 growers of apples, pears, cherries, apricots and other crops that a guest worker program to ease agricultural labor shortages faces an uphill political battle.

“There is no consensus in our nation, in Congress, or probably in this room today, on the best way to fix our immigration system, but there is widespread agreement that our immigration system isn’t working,” Hastings said. “You clearly want a guest-worker program, but thousands of your fellow citizens and taxpayers don’t share that view.”

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Meanwhile, orchard operators are looking at wireless networks, database applications, electronic weather systems and digital sensors as well as new mechanical harvesters and robot tractors to reduce their dependence on human labor.

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