Thanks for your e-mail! There is no doubt some truth to what your friend writes. Apple growers do go through this picker shortage event nearly every year. It's much worse this year because of the harvest two weeks later than usual in the face of oncoming cold weather.
What's not true is that this work can or should be mechanized. Many foods can be picked by machine, but they haven't come up with anything that can even come close to picking an apple without bruising it. It's difficult to hand pick them without bruising them. The starchy, tasteless, leather-skinned Red Delicious hybrid apple of the 1980s is an example of what happens when you try to breed an apple that could possibly be picked by machine.
Anyone can pick apples, but it is very hard. Anglos did it for years. I followed farmworkers in the 1970s and 1980 when there were few if any Mexican immigrants doing the work in apples, pears and cherries. Many of the people I worked with descendants of people who came out from the Dust Bowl states in the 1930s. Many had regular jobs that they would take leave from each year just to bring back the romance of picking fruit. There were many orchards developed so they could be picked without ladders or very short ladders by retired people. Some orchardists built nice trailer parks for them and offered conditions that made the job more sociable. They wanted the older pickers because they worked slow and carefully and didn't damage the fruit.
Growers have been spoiled by the Mexican immigrants who are willing to work very hard for lower wages and in conditions that most Americans no longer want to do. There's also a stigma to being a farmworker that nobody wants. The new immigrants graduate to better jobs as soon as they can.
I think growers should improve conditions to make them more inviting to anyone who needs a part-time job during harvest. There's really no good reason why unemployed people can't do this work, but they have to be invited.
The Wenatchee World
The Wenatchee World
Sent: Sunday, October 30, 2011 2:35:05 PM
Subject: Re: Picking Apples
Thanks for a great story about the apple harvest problems. It contained all the elements I was wanting to learn about. I have a "blogger friend" who works for the State Department in DC who has an interesting view about this problem. I'd be interested to know your thoughts on his comments. He is www.skepticalbureaucrat.blogspot.com
Mechanical harvesting is the right way to go, economically, politically, technically, and out of humane concern for the peasants involved. But the growers lobby, and the illegal alien lobby (which is welcomed by both major parties), have been able to impede efforts to increase mechanization.
For example, the last federal government engineer conducting research on mechanical harvesting of fruit crops retired in 2005, about 25 years after the USDA stopped funding research on mechanization.
Personally, I hope Washington loses its apple business to places like New Zealand. The growers have no regard for our national interests, why should the Feds do anything for the growers?