Royal J. Klein & Sons orchard in Sparta
SPARTA, Mich. (WZZM) -- A work sector ripe for hiring right now is apple picking.
Michigan is expected to have a near record bumper crop, but there is a worry for farmers: With last year's devastating crop, will migrant workers come back to do the job?
At H&W Farms in Belding, they need 30 to 40 migrant workers. Just a week ago, George Wright said he was extremely nervous workers wouldn't show up. But in the last few days, many have started to trickle in.
Michigan State University extension production tree fruit educator, Amy Irish-Brown says West Michigan growers should get the help they need, but no extra help they've had in the past. And they might be able to use it with this year's crop.
2012's killing frost and devastating drought sent many of Michigan's nearly 50,000 valued migrant farmworkers fleeing south, and Joe Klein fearing they would never return north for apple season.
"It's always a worry our whole year and our whole livelihood is dependent on these migrant workers," he said. The Sparta farmer is cautiously optimistic that a near full crew will return to his farm, Royal J. Klein & Sons. "We're hoping for 30," he said.
This season's crop is expected to be one of the state's largest ever and the workers he has here now can't do the tough labor alone.
One way Michigan tries to attract migrant workers is with its housing. Klein and Irish-Brown say Michigan growers have more housing and better housing than top apple growing states like Washington, and he plans to build more of it next year.
As a whole, a recent report shows Michigan's migrant and seasonal farmworker population is up more than 7% since 2006. But Klein and Irish-Brown say that trend is heading in reverse.
"The condition of the migrant program isn't good in terms of getting people here," he said.
He reinforces all the workers in the area are legal, but says until immigration reform happens in Washington, Michigan will start to suffer.
"I think if we can get by this year with enough help, to get the apple crop picked, hopefully things will change and there will be a better supply next year for us."