Lack of workers prove costly to local producers

Reported by: Rebecca Rivers
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Updated: 8/06/2013 5:31 pm
Sunburst Farms has worked hard all summer long to get their squash ready to pick. 

But there's no one to pick it so the squash ends up shredded instead of on your dinner plate. 

"We're actually, we're shredding this field up," Bernie Thiel, owner of Sunburst Farms, said. "We can't find enough harvesters to harvest this field of squash." 

Bernie Thiel and his wife Cynthia own and operate Sunburst Markets here in Lubbock. 

They have a reputation across Texas for growing beautiful, tasty squash. 

But Bernie made the painful decision to shred this field of over-ripe vegetables so the crop would stop pulling nutrients out of the soil. 

He said he waited as long as he possibly could, waiting for hired hands to come looking for work. 

"We usually have between 40 and 50," Bernie Thiel said. "We have right now about 30. I know that we have lost some hands to the oil business here, and then really it's just seems to be that there's just a lot of people that just aren't going to do this work." 

Sunburst Markets has advertised locally for eight continuous weeks on the radio and in the paper saying they're hiring. 

They've even been in touch with labor contractors from South Texas hoping to bring workers in from other regions. 
All with no luck. 

"We really have to do something with our immigration reform, comprehensive immigration reform, because I'm afraid if we don't here in the next few years that there's just not going to be any laborers hardly at all," Bernie Thiel said. "We have to have a decent working program that we can bring people over and have them work because, believe me, nothing more would suit me than to use people locally and to have them work and to be local here, but it's just not happening." 

Thiel said he's not the only one facing a labor shortage. 

Produce buyers and other growers are dealing with the same issue. 

But he says consumers should also be concerned. 

"It's definitely going to affect their food prices, without a doubt," Bernie Thiel said. "You're going to see a lot more imported fruits and vegetables. I believe it's around 17% to 20% right now that we have imported that comes in from foreign countries. And if you just recently heard that we had a cyclospora event that has taken place, they believe that it's from foreign fruit." 

So for now it seems the fruits of their labor will be postponed.

"You know it's very difficult to do because we're very passionate about what we do," Bernie Thiel said. "I mean, farming you have to be passionate because you deal with so many different obstacles, and believe me they are out there. I mean, if it's not the weather, it's the insects, if it's not the insects then it's the market. Just every day there's something else out there that's facing you that you have to put up with. So anyway, it's not an easy task. I promise you, it's not an easy task." 

Planning ahead to next year, Thiel said if nothing is done with immigration reform to help support rural labor programs he will be forced to lower production and downsize. 

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