It is a big deal when a government agricultural group meets in Yakima this week.

The latest tractors, tools and pesticides are all on display at the Washington State Tree Fruit Association’s annual meeting and fruit and vegetable exposition.

But while equipment and technology are important to manufacturers and processors, the most important issue for everyone remains labor – how to find workers and how much they cost.

The issue was discussed on Monday morning by several speakers at the 1,200 WSTFA Annual Meeting, and at the Yakima Valley Sondom everywhere at the Hort Expo, where most equipment and service companies showed ways to reduce working hours and labor. Expenses.

Diane Kurle, senior vice president of the Apple Apple Lobby Group, said labor was a priority for all agriculture.

“I hear this from everyone, from 500 to 1,000 people who need five to 10 employees,” Kurrle said.

North West Horticulture Council President Kurrle and Mark Powers emphasized the need for Congress to modernize farm workers.

A.D. The bill, introduced in early 2019, was presented to Congress in March this year and co-sponsored by US representatives Dan Newhouse, R-Washington and Zoe Lofgren, D-California. New House represents Yakima County and the rest of the state’s 4th congressional district.

Creating a legal way for currently unlicensed agricultural workers, Kurley said, includes three key platforms; Upgrading and updating the existing H-2A Temporary Agricultural Worker Visa Program; And requires employers to implement the E-Verify program to ensure that their employees are approved.

The Farm Workers Update Act was approved in 2019 and on March 18 this year with the support of both parties. Negotiations to review the law in the US Senate have stalled, Kurl said.

“If the Agricultural Workers’ Reform Act is approved by the House in early 2019, the AEWR (minimum wage for H-2A workers) will be the highest $ 16.02 next year, down from $ 17.41 8.6% or $ 1.39. We are now looking forward to 2022,” Powers said.

WSTFA President John Devaney said labor issues will be important in Olympia next year, especially for agricultural workers.

Washington State Supreme Court overturns part-time freedom in the dairy industry last year. Following this, the legislature enacted a law that would require all agricultural workers to be paid overtime by 2022 and establish a 40-hour working week by early 2024.

“There has to be some variability in the industry about 40-hour work week due to lack of energy and weather (which affects the schedule),” Devani said.

WSTFA believes that allowing employees to work up to 50 hours a week for no more than 12 weeks a year will benefit both growers and their workforce.

Devani added: “It is better for workers to limit their hours to 40 and force them to work harder to maintain their income.

At the expo

Various attempts to incur labor costs were illustrated on Monday afternoon by two interconnected booths on the Northeast Sondom floor.

On one side of the road, near Vancouver, Nathan Rommel, president of BTB Solutions, was showcasing a highly-automated automated robotic robot (REAPR).

The machine, known as the “harvester”, places the sensors and suction cups on the right side of the container to lift and carry them. Such technology would cost $ 165,000, but it would eventually save labor costs, Rommel said.

“It is actually cheaper than labor costs,” he added. “If you have a man who works this full time, it will not take long before this money is saved.”

Outside the quiet REAPR, Liz Cardinas spoke with producers about the company’s ability to provide its employees with a powerful harvest during the harvest season.

Pacific agri-service workers begin their year in southern California, then work their way through northern California, Oregon, and Washington to harvest crops.

“Loyalty is the key to our company – between us and our employees, between us and our customers,” she said. There are many growers we work here (in Yakima County).

According to Cardinas, employing Pacific agri-service workers saves money in a number of ways. As a domestic worker, they may be paid less than the H-2A – Washington’s minimum wage in 2021 was $ 13.69 for H-2A workers, $ 16.34.

Other savings include having their employees “clock in” on their QR code instead of punching their clock or collecting their time on a timeline. She added that the company is providing training to its employees, saving time and money for local growers.

Back in person

Overall, due to the Covide-19 epidemic, in contrast to the 2020 virtual conferences, everyone from NW Hort Expo to WSTFA officials were delighted that 2021 events could be held in person.

“We were busy – a little slower for a few years but nothing was last year,” said Chris Rankin, vice president of the Running Equipment of Union Gap.

“It’s good to get back in touch with people,” says Rankin.

“At least 1,200 people have already registered for the WSTFA annual meeting,” Devani said. Pre-Covid, the event usually attracts about 1,600.

“It’s a big deal for the industry,” he said. “Much of the value of this type of conference is the informal interaction between members.”

Both events will last until Wednesday., December 8, At the 117th WSTFA Annual WSTFA Meeting at the Yakima Convention Center and the Nwe Hort Expo at the Convention Center and the Yakima Valley Sondom.

The Horticulture Exhibition is free and open to the public and houses 180 vendors displaying their equipment and services. Most of these will be displayed in SunDome, the rest in the Convention Center Hall.

The NW Hort Expo will be held on Tuesday from 8 am to 5 pm and Wednesday from 8 am to noon. Parking is free at SunDome, and shuttle buses operate between the two stations.

For more information on the event, visit and click on the “Annual Meeting” tab.


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