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April 2020, Volume 26, Number 2

Northeast, Midwest, Northwest

Maine. The growers of 3,800 acres of low-bush blueberries rely on 50,000 hives of honeybees to pollinate their crop in April and May. Some beekeepers said that the coronavirus reduced the number of experienced truck drivers needed to move hives.

New York. Since January 1, 2020, farm employers must pay 1.5 times a worker’s normal wage for hours above 60 a week. Many dairy farms that in the past had six 12-hour days or 72 hour-a-week schedules are reducing their work weeks to 65 hours a week in order to limit overtime pay to five hours a week. A three-member board that includes employer, union, and government representation is studying the effects of the 60-hour overtime law.

Four other states, California, Hawaii, Minnesota and Maryland, require some form of overtime pay for farm workers, while 25 states explicitly exclude farm workers from their general labor laws.

Pennsylvania. South Mill Champs plans a $115 million, one million square-feet mushroom growing facility in southeastern Pennsylvania that is expected to employ 500 workers. The US had 36 million-square feet of mushroom-growing capacity in 2019, including 40 percent in southeast Pennsylvania. Most growers produce agaricus white mushrooms in compost beds in a six-week spawning, growing, and harvest cycle. US grower revenue for mushrooms was $1.2 billion in 2019.

Grocery chains won $46 million from the 21-member Eastern Mushroom Marketing Cooperative that included South Mill Champs for price fixing. Several mushroom growers went out of business after the settlement.

The Oregon Dairy restaurant and supermarket in Lancaster county opened in 1974, and has become popular with locals and tourists. The Hurst family that owns Oregon Dairy wants to create Oregon Village with 550 housing units, prompting protests from residents who fear that high-density housing in an area of Amish and Mennonite farmers could disrupt long-established ways of life.

Lancaster county has preserved 1,000 farms by paying farmers fair value for their farm in exchange for its remaining agricultural in perpetuity, and the private Lancaster Farm Trust has preserved 1,500 farms in a similar way.

Virginia. Democrats control the state government, and they are proposing to increase the state’s minimum wage from the current federal $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour by July 1, 2025. Farmers fear that higher state minimum wages would raise the AEWR for H-2A guest workers. Tobacco farmer Bob Harris said “We wouldn’t have a tobacco industry if it wasn’t for migrant labor.”

Illinois. Some cities with declining populations are annexing nearby areas to maintain their populations in the 2020 Census. Decatur had 94,000 residents in 1980, but only 71,000 in 2019, prompting Decatur to expand its borders before the January 1, 2020 deadline, angering some new Decatur residents whose taxes will go up. Archer Daniels Midland moved its corporate headquarters to Chicago in 2014, lowering Decatur property values.

Colorado. A Denver Democrat wants the state to replace the words “illegal alien” with “undocumented immigrant” in state laws. President Trump used “illegal alien” several times in his 2020 State of the Union speech, and the US Department of Justice instructed federal prosecutors to use the term, fueling efforts to remove such terms from state and local laws and ordinances. A pending House bill would replace “alien” and “illegal alien” with “foreign national” and “undocumented foreign national” in major US immigration laws.

The Associated Press stylebook has since 2013 stopped using “illegal” to describe people, associating the term only with their actions. Some activists prefer the terms “unauthorized” immigrants or “people who are here illegally.”

Wisconsin. Rural areas have 20 percent of US residents but almost 70 percent of US roads, many of which are in need of resurfacing and repair because of heavier trucks and other equipment that use rural roads. Wisconsin says that the normal life of an asphalt road is 30 years, but many of its rural roads are older than 60 years and have not been resurfaced, forcing weight limits and closures. Patching roads costs less than $20,000 a mile, while reconstructing roads costs over $300,000 a mile.

Idaho. Idaho was the fastest-growing state between July 2018 and July 2019, attracting migrants from California and other states who are seeking lower-cost housing and less congestion. The metro Boise area is rapidly adding residents, which is pushing up house prices. In some suburbs, median house prices doubled between 2019 and 2020.

Washington. A settlement that required Stemilt Ag Services to pay $80,000 to 4,300 Mexican H-2A workers was stopped in February 2020 after Columbia Legal Services intervened and argued that the payment request would be sent by mail to H-2A workers in Mexico, who would likely not receive their mail. Any monies not claimed by the H-2A workers would remain with Stemilt.