Florida blueberry growers seek labor solution
February 25, 2015

The Sunshine State’s blueberry growers are seeking ways to deal with a dwindling labor supply.Florida_Blueberry_Growers_Asso_logo_249

At the Feb. 17 Florida Blueberry Growers Association’s spring meeting and tradeshow, speakers discussed ways they can better grow their crops through new varieties and other agronomic issues.

When it comes to help through immigration reform in Washington, D.C., Michael Carlton, director of labor relations for the Maitland-based Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, isn’t optimistic. During a session at the meeting, he pointed to a blank projector screen.

“On immigration reform legislation, there it is,” he said. “We have nothing. We have a Congress that quite frankly is more concerned about fighting each other rather than fixing these problems.”

Because of a short harvest, Carlton said blueberry growers face challenges because most H-2A workers want to work for longer periods of time.

To make the program work, he suggested growers form partnerships with growers of other commodities, including strawberries and tomatoes.

This season, Florida growers could harvest 15 million to 20 million pounds of blueberries, similar to the 16 million pounds they harvested last season, said association president Dudley Calfee, general manager of Floral City-based Ferris Farms Inc.

“The cold weather has really slowed us down,” he said. “It’s given us good chill. We will see how it has affected leaf and fruit development. We could have X-number on the bush but a lot depends on labor and how Georgia comes in.”

Florida growers pay $100 a year in membership dues. During the association’s business meeting, Calfee told growers the group’s board voted to increase out-of-state dues from $50 a year to $150 a year.

This year’s event attracted around 375 growers and other participants, show sponsors said.


The Packer