July 2004, Volume 10, Number 3
Washington. Washington plans to spend $2.8 million to build and operate seasonal housing for migrant farm workers in the Wenatchee Valley over the next five years. The 10-acre Pangborn Cherry Harvest Camp, 35 tents on cement slabs with communal eating, cooking, laundry and bath facilities, filled up the first day with about 210 workers in response to a crack down on campers.
Gov. Gary Locke, traveling in Mexico in June 2004, said that the state would spend $40 million to build seasonal and temporary housing for farm workers and provide free health care to pregnant unauthorized women. Locke noted that he signed legislation allowing unauthorized children to attend Washington state universities at in-state tuition rates.
Washington's minimum wage is $7.16 an hour, and machines to pick cherries are spreading. Most have hydraulic arms that grasp the tree limb and shake the cherries off, catch them, and blow out leaves as the cherries are conveyed to harvest bins. Machines can harvest seven bins or 80 to 150 trees an hour, but only if the trees are pruned properly. Before harvesting, cherries are sprayed with Etherl, a loosening agent, so that they can more easily be shaken off the trees.
The Andean Trade Preference Act of 1991 provides incentives for Peruvian growers to switch from coca to alternate crops, including asparagus. Asparagus exports from Peru rose, surpassing coffee in 2003 as the leading export crop, and acreage in Washington fell from 30,000 in 1990 to 15,000 in 2003. Seneca Foods announced that it would close the last asparagus cannery in Washington after the 2004 season, eliminating capacity for processing half of the state's crop. While wages for Peruvian asparagus workers average $7 a day.
Washington's state government in 2004 provided almost $4 million to study the mechanization of processing and packing plants and to develop a mechanical asparagus harvester. Farmers invest about $2,000 an acre to plant asparagus, which is expected to produce for 14 years.
Wenatchee, 150 miles from Seattle and east of the Cascade mountains, is the "Apple Capital of the World," but acreage has declined 50 percent since 1987 as a result of a shift away from Red Delicious and increased competition from especially China. Tourism and grape-growing are expanding.
Oregon. The Columbia River Dairies in Boardman, Oregon employs 140 workers to milk 12,000 cows. In July 2004, 17 workers settled claims for $70,000 in Spring 2004 after alleging that they were not paid for overtime work; 69 workers sued the dairy, but most settled for $800 each.
Alwyn Scott, "State losing asparagus war to Peru plants," Seattle Times, June 4, 2004. "State pledges money to house migrant farmworkers," Associated Press, May 4, 2004.