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COVID-19 shuts borders, causing a shortage of farmworkers across America

COVID-19 shuts borders, causing a shortage of farmworkers across America
Posted at 12:12 PM, Aug 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-21 15:12:23-04

Farm life is not easy, but sometimes that life picks you.

“When we were little boys, I think it was my dad pushing us out the door all the time,” said orchard owner Curtis Rowley, with a laugh. “As you get older, it gets it your blood and you seem to stay around.”

Rowley is a fourth-generation farmer in rural Utah.

“Here on the side of us, we have a tart cherry orchard,” Rowley said, motioning with his hand. “We also have a gala block of apples.”

However, Rowley’s specialty is peaches.

“I know when they are perfect, not by color, not but size, but when I cut them open and smell them,” he said.

Knowledge passed down through his family taught him how to dodge the always humming farm equipment. He knows what to do when mother nature turns on the AC. Unfortunately, there are some things that even a seasoned farming family cannot plan for.

“We were still pruning when the COVID-19 pandemic hit,” Rowley said.

Like many in this business, Rowley relies on outside help for planting, pruning and harvesting. He uses the H-2A government program that allows U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals in to fill temporary agricultural jobs.

“As they shut down the Mexico border at the end of March, our guys happened to be right there at the time,” he explained.

Rowley said luckily, the group got through, but now, it is the harvest and it’s all hands on deck.

He is feeling the pinch.

“It’s really tight,” Rowley said. “I won’t tell you it’s perfect.”

The window for picking does not stay open for long.

“We have somewhere between three and maybe four days if we’re lucky,” he said.

Rowley said he has tried other options, like offering jobs to people furloughed or laid off.

“They’ll come and help for a bit, but as soon as their jobs open back up, they leave and that’s understandable,” he said.

The timing of the harvest also coincides with schools starting.

“To hire high school kids to pick apples is just not going to happen,” he said.

Rowley said they will squeeze through the fall harvest, but others will not be as lucky.

“There’s a lot of people still looking for help,” he said.

As for the future, this farmer said his family will remain planted, ready to weather whatever storm comes their way.

“We’re planning on being here farming and continuing to grow this fruit,” he said.