Hurricane Halts Pickers From Reaching Apple Crop
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) _ Hurricane Gilbert’s damage to Jamaica’s airports is preventing apple pickers from getting to West Virginia orchards, threatening the crop.
″It’s going to be devastating,″ said Douglas Dirting, vice president of Tri-County Growers Inc., which normally has 400 people in the fields during mid-September. On Monday, there were fewer than 15, he said.
Dirting said the Jamaicans may arrive Friday, but by then 72,000 bushels of apples will have dropped to the ground.
Tri-County also blames the U.S. Labor Department for its troubles.
Labor Department Region III Administrator William Haltigan last month denied the company’s certification to hire foreign workers until it settled a legal dispute with two former workers, Dirting said.
The lawsuit and the bureaucratic delays were finally resolved by last week - just as the hurricane tore through Jamaica.
Tri-County hired 40 Jamaicans who had been in Connecticut cutting tobacco, but they barely will make a dent in the apple crop this week, Dirting said.
″When (apples) hit the ground, most of the time the processing companies won’t even want to buy them for juice,″ he said.
Tri-County gets $8 to $10 per bushel for high-quality apples, but juice- quality apples fetch only about $1.50 per bushel, company officials said.
The growers have had little luck in finding domestic labor to pick the apples. Tri-County recruited just three local pickers.