Southwest Florida citrus pickers are in the fields this week, collecting the first fruit of the season. This region’s crop is worth a billion dollars to the local economy and growers are worried they won’t be able to find enough help this year. It comes after authorities have arrested some illegal immigrants and scared away others. Ron Hamel of the LaBelle-based Gulf Citrus Growers Association says so far there have been no labor shortages. But that might not be the case in a few months.
“We’re still apprehensive going in to see as we start picking up volume if some of our harvesting crews that are not yet in our region will be back. So we’re keeping our fingers crossed and we’re optimistic that as we move forward into the season we’ll be able to have enough harvesting help.”
Orange juice prices are up more than eight-percent this year and consumer demand has dropped. If Florida citrus remains on the trees because of a labor shortage, the cost will go even higher. Florida is second only to Brazil in global orange juice production.
The first part of Southwest Florida’s citrus crop is being picked this week. It comes as concern mounts over whether there are enough workers this year to collect all the fruit on the trees. Citrus is worth an estimated billion dollars to the Southwest Florida economy. Two years of devastating hurricanes spread crop diseases and knocked healthy fruit to the ground. And now concerns over illegal immigration are scaring some workers away this year, further hobbling the industry. Ron Hamel of the LaBelle-based Gulf Citrus Growers Association says it’s a good sign there haven’t been labor shortages yet early in the season -- but he worries what will happen in the next few months.
“We’re certainly going to need enough help to get that crop in and we’re hoping that we’ll be able to achieve that in an orderly fashion.”
Hamel says he’s keeping his fingers crossed that his Southwest Florida citrus growers will have enough help to harvest their crop rather than let it wither on the tree.
Tuesday, 10 October 2006 01:00
Orange Picking SeasonWritten by WGCU Newsroom