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January 2013, Volume 19, Number 1

Midwest, Northeast, Northwest

Maine. Aroostook county is the center of Maine's potato and broccoli production. Smith's Farm (www.smithsfarm.com) has 4,000 acres of broccoli among its 16,000 acres in Presque Isle, Maine, making it one of the largest producers east of the Mississippi River, shipping up to 1.5 million cases with the Stag label between July and October. Smith's also farms broccoli and potatoes in Hastings, Florida.

Smith's brings 150 to 250 broccoli harvesters from California to Maine each year to fill jobs that pay $10 to $12 an hour.

Maryland. The Legal Aid Bureau led a group of 28 NGOs that filed a complaint with the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in December 2012 alleging that the US was violating the human rights of migrant farm workers by not protecting their right to receive visits from legal service workers in on-farm camps. (www.wcl.american.edu/news/legalaidcomplaint_2012.cfm) The complaint recounts examples of farmers denying outreach workers and lawyers access to migrant workers housed on private property or harassing them when they attempted to visit workers.

Access to migrant workers housed on private property is regulated primarily by states. The complaint asked the OHCHR to recommend a uniform legal frame work to ensure that visitors have access to farm labor camps, to spell out when local law enforcement can be called to deal with charges of trespassing, and to remove exemptions that allow farm workers to be treated differently from other workers under federal and state labor laws.

Angelica Nurseries of Kennedyville hired 90 H-2A workers and paid them the AEWR of $10.34 an hour in 2012. Angelica noted that, if it hired local workers and laid them off when their seasonal jobs end, the laid-off workers could apply for unemployment benefits, which would increase Angelica's UI taxes.

New York. Some New York dairy farmers are using robots to milk cows. There are 2,000 robot milkers in the Netherlands and 30 in New York that cost about $200,000 each if four or more are installed. Hemdale Farms uses 13 robots to milk 600 cows, while the Post Dairy Farm uses four robots to milk 350 cows. Milking robots are manufactured by Dutch firm Lely, Swedish firm DeLaval, and Germany's GEA Group.

Arizona. Winter US vegetable production is centered in the Yuma, Arizona area, where some growers complained of labor shortages in December 2012. Janine Duron of Centro Independiente de Trabajadores Agricolas (CITA) said that most Yuma-area farm workers are older Mexicans who live in Mexican border towns and commute daily to US farm jobs.

Wages of $8 to $10 an hour are too low to attract younger legal Mexican workers for the four months of work in the area, and unauthorized Mexicans move further from the border to avoid detection by the Border Patrol, which sometimes stops farm labor buses and cars with farm workers. Legal workers and US citizens prefer jobs in the region's dominant industries: tourism and services.

Wholesum Family Farms opened the first 12 acres of a planned 60 acres of green houses in Amado, Arizona with 80 employees. Wholesum said that, by offering year-round work, it can attract better workers.

Colorado. Grant Family Farms in Wellington, the largest US community-supported agriculture program, filed for bankruptcy for the second time in December 2012. Grant supplied 4,300 customers from 2,000 acres of certified organic land, and purchased commodities from other farmers.

Localization Partners said a $1.5 million six-month loan to Grant at 16 percent interest was not repaid because of liens for unpaid unemployment and other taxes.

Sixty-year old Grant previously filed for bankruptcy in 2006 after it was alleged that contractor Moises Rodriguez was trafficking illegal workers to the farm. Grant eventually paid $70,000 in 2008 to settle charges that five workers earned less than the minimum wage after unlawful deductions. In 2008, Grant reported paying a total $2.2 million in wages, and said that workers earned an average $9.07 an hour.

Washington. Fears of too few pickers to harvest about 110 million boxes of apples appeared unfounded in fall 2012. Growers said that 40,000 pickers were needed to pick the state's apples.

Washington produces about two-thirds of US apples. Number two New York harvested fewer apples in 2012, and number three Michigan had a much smaller apple crop than usual because of spring 2012 freezes. The price of Red Delicious apples rose to $25 a bushel in 2012 from $18 in 2011, and the price of Honeycrisp doubled to $60.

Washington's minimum wage rose to $9.19 an hour on January 1, 2013, the highest state minimum wage. Ten states increase the minimum wage each year to reflect the increase in the cost of living: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. AB 10, pending in the California Legislature, would raise California's $8 an hour minimum wage to $8.25 in 2014, $8.75 in 2015, $9.24 in 2016, and index the minimum wage to the California Consumer Price Index beginning in 2017.

California, Oregon and Washington produce most US pears; Oregon and Washington produced 125,000 tons of pears a year that are canned and California 20,000 tons. Del Monte and Northwest Packing, the two remaining pear canneries in the northwest, paid growers $260 per ton for field run No. 1 grade pears in 2012. The major buyer of canned pears is USDA, which uses them in school lunches.