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A dwindling crop of migrant workers

Ashley Milne-Tyte Jul 10, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: It’s been a booming year for commodities. We’ve told you about rising prices for everything from pork bellies to copper. Now you can get ready to pay more for your morning glass of O.J. Florida citrus growers have had hurricanes and citrus cankers. Next on their list? Harvest problems. Not enough workers to pick the fruit. Undocumented immigrant workers. Ashley Milne-Tyte has that story.

ASHLEY MILNE-TYTE: Usually the Florida citrus season’s over around the end of June. This year it’s continuing into July as growers scramble to harvest the rest of the oranges left on trees. Bob Norberg is an economist with the Florida Department of Citrus. He says if there aren’t enough pickers to pick the fruit that affects other people’s jobs down the processing line.

BOB NORBERG: You know if you’re talking about 90,000 jobs are created with a whole crop, and we’re going to be short somewhere between 5 and 10 percent, then we could expect an equal amount of jobs to be impacted.

He says the amount of fruit unharvested right now is equivalent to half a month’s supply of orange juice. Mike Sparks of Florida Citrus Mutual is more sanguine. He says growers hope to get the majority of the leftover fruit off the trees. Still, he says it’s surprising there’s a shortage of pickers this year.

MIKE SPARKS: With a smaller supply and actually a better return to the grower and a better return to the harvesters, you would think you would not have this problem.

Some growers say the problem is undocumented immigrants have moved home to Mexico, fearful that if they don’t, they’ll be ineligible to apply for a possible guest-worker program. Tirso Moreno with the Farmworkers Association of Florida disagrees. He says most are just finding better paying jobsa€¦

TIRSO MORENO: Now you can go into construction and service. They are aggressively recruiting workers in the rural towns.

Mike Sparks of Florida Citrus Mutual agrees that the competition can only hurt citrus.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.

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