Berry Farmers Can't Find Good Help - Blame Immigration Policies

Despite high unemployment in the Tampa Bay area, strawberry farmers in Plant City say they're having trouble finding workers.

"These berries don't turn on and off with a light switch. We have to harvest them the day they're ready," said Carl Grooms, owner of Fancy Farms.

Grooms is angry at the federal government over immigration policies he believes are putting

"It seems like the government is doing everything in their power to help us out of business instead of trying to help us stay in business," continued Grooms, who has been growing strawberries for more than 30 years.

For decades, migrant workers from Mexico and Guatemala have picked berries, oranges, and other crops in Florida. Now, farmers say, only a fraction of that labor force is available.

Field foreman German Bedolla says some workers don't come because of tighter border restrictions and tough new immigration laws in states like Arizona and Alabama.

He says his harvesting crews used to consist of around 150 workers; now, he's lucky to find 50.

"We got plenty of jobs," he said, "we need all the workers we can get."

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Grooms says he's offered jobs to others who live in the area, but he says most Americans don't want jobs harvesting. He says the few that have hired on left after a day on the job.

The work is hard, as I found out picking berries for only 30 minutes. I could feel the strain on my back and legs from bending over. I can imagine what it must be like for people who do it for a lifetime.

But Grooms points to other physically demanding jobs. "If you were a roofer, you would have never made it up there with a bundle of 87-pound shingles, would you? There's other hard jobs out there."

Grooms believes some don't take the jobs because they receive government benefits while not working.

Dr. David Denslow, an economist at the University of Florida, says farmers may welcome immigration reform that allows migrants to work for a season and return to their home country, if the paperwork can be streamlined and the workers can be tracked.

"Unions and others will contend that with the economy so bad, the last thing we want to do is allow more workers into the country," said Denslow.

But, at Carl Grooms' farm, more workers would be welcome.

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