Washington cherry harvest in coronavirus crosshairs

Apr 15, 2020, 8:20 AM

migrant labor, cherry harvest Washington...

Picking and sorting cherries in Central Washington. (AP Photo/Andrei Pungovschi)

(AP Photo/Andrei Pungovschi)

Washington state exporters have been getting crushed this year, whether it’s Boeing not delivering planes or our geoduck farmers not able to sell their products to Asian markets. So, how long will this last, and will closed ports and the lack of shipping options doom our farming industry?

US-China trade war hits Washington farmers hard

Washington’s farms generate around $7 billion of economic impact on the state. The industry is why Washington is always one of the top exporters in the country.

Preexisting tariffs and now the coronavirus have been taking a big toll. We heard in March how geoduck farmers couldn’t get their products to Asia because the ports were closed. Our state’s cherry farmers and apple farmers could very well experience similar issues of their own.

Jon DeVaney is president of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association, and he doesn’t like what he’s been seeing.

“Milk [is] getting dumped and eggs being destroyed, and some vegetable crops in some states [are] being plowed under just because there’s not an ability to get them to the customers in a way they can use it,” he said. “We don’t want that to happen with our cherry crop.”

It’s the cherry crop that is up first. Harvesting usually begins in mid-May, and DeVaney said farmers really have no idea if they’ll be able to get to work.

“The biggest question that a lot of my growers and packers are worried about is knowing exactly what the timeline is or how long a lot of these restrictions will remain in place and when things may change again,” DuVaney said.

They are hopeful Governor Inslee’s May 4 deadline will hold, but they don’t know, making it so they can’t solidify a schedule.

The other major factor is the labor force. An estimated 25,000 seasonal migrant workers are used to harvest Washington crops.

Neighbors pitch in, harvest crops for sick Washington farmer

How do they get here? How can they socially distance in the fields, the packing facilities, or in housing?

“Will people be able to get where they need to go,” DuVaney wondered. “How do you transport workers? How many people can you put on a bus? How many people can you house in housing safely? These are a lot of the questions that growers are trying to get answers to, and the state and feds are still giving us evolving guidance.”

There is a visa issue as well, with the guidelines somewhat confused this year. The federal government has waived some rules, like in-person interviews for workers who were here last year and have an H-2A visa. There are some reports that the confusion has created a logjam at the Mexican border. DeVaney is hoping Washington will gets the workers it needs.

The next few weeks will be critical for Washington’s cherry crop. Apples and pears follow the cherries, but they can be stored for a while; cherries cannot, and need to be shipped quickly.  Hopefully, we won’t see them dying on the trees because they can’t be harvested, or rotting in crates that can’t be shipped.

Local News

campbell kraken...

Frank Sumrall

Campbell, AHL’s first woman coach, led Kraken in preseason during historic weekend

Campbell, 31, became a full-time assistant coach for the Seattle Kraken's minor-league affiliate, the Coachella Valley Firebirds, in July 2022.

34 minutes ago

(Photo from KIRO 7)...

L.B. Gilbert

Study: Drivers in Burien, Lake Stevens among worst in Washington

A new report identifies the top ten cities with the best and worst drivers in Washington state.

57 minutes ago

Seattle non-profits...

Associated Press

Oregon man convicted of murder in fatal shooting of sheriff’s deputy in Washington state

A jury has convicted an Oregon man of murder in the fatal shooting of a sheriff’s deputy in Washington state.

2 hours ago

Washington rent...

Bill Kaczaraba

Good news for renters: Wash. rates dropped over the past year

The median rent in Washington state is $2,335 down almost 10% year-to-year, according to statistics from Rent.com.

13 hours ago

mayor harrell's budget...

Frank Sumrall

Seattle to spend 32% more on affordable housing if Harrell’s budget passes

Mayor Harrell's proposed budget needs to be approved by the city council before moving forward toward his One Seattle goals.

14 hours ago

west seattle dementia...

L.B. Gilbert

West Seattle man with dementia, 86, still missing after over a week

James Price, 86, is 5 feet, 10 inches tall, weighs 125 pounds, has a crooked walk due to a spinal injury and is hard of hearing.

15 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

Washington cherry harvest in coronavirus crosshairs