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FarmScene-FarmLabor 02-11 Web

Farm worker programs debated

John Wyss had just been hired at one of the nation’s largest apple growers in 2005 when the company couldn’t find enough workers. Fruit went unpicked, and much of what was picked came off the trees too late.

Hail and harsh winter freezes have shrunk the crops in the years since, reducing the need for workers. But if the weather had cooperated, he said, "We would have had severe labor problems."

This year, new rules enacted by the Bush administration shortly before leaving office may make it easier for farmers to bring in foreign workers. Plus, Congress faces another push to potentially legalize undocumented farm workers already in the country.

How problematic does that make any talk of bringing in foreign workers?

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"There has always been a migratory labor force in some industry in this country, and during all those years, there were economic challenges," he said. "I don’t think that’s going to change."

As many as 1 million people labor in America’s farm fields each year, pruning trees and harvesting fruits and vegetables. The Labor Department has estimated more than half are in the country illegally.

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