As a lifelong farmer and an employer since 1980, Doug Krahmer has experienced the difficulty of finding enough pickers to harvest his 500 acres of blueberries and to help with the year-round maintenance of the plants. Krahmer and his daughter Annie operate a blueberry farm in Saint Paul, Ore. Their blueberries are sold under the Driscoll's label and they require up to 250 pickers during the peak harvest season.
As much as 40 percent of the workers they employ are new to the fields each year due to immigration issues. Along with migrant workers, Krahmer aims to employ as many unemployed Americans and young people as he can. "I just need productive and legal workers," he said. "We don't discriminate. We advertise with the Oregon employment agency. We hire high school kids and local residents. If there are Americans who want to work, I have plenty of work and all they have to do is come apply."
High pay doesn't seem to be any incentive for the physically intense and skilled work required on farms like Krahmer's. Despite his efforts to get the word out about jobs on his farm in the local community and around the state, he gets a very low turnout of domestic workers, and those who do show up the first week don't always stick around.
Migrant workers are required to make minimum wage, but thanks to the labor tracking system the Krahmers use, workers are making much more than that. Annie Krahmer, who keeps up with the workers and their pay, explained that all workers have a badge that they scan each time they bring in a load of berries to be weighed. The pickers get a receipt for that load, and the information is sent to the tracking software. Workers are paid per pound of picked berries, which usually adds up to between $9 and $12 per hour--much higher than minimum wage.
Unless Congress acts soon, the consequences will be felt beyond the fields, Krahmer warns. "There will be less and less produce on the shelves," he said. "We will import to meet demand, but the prices will be much higher."