Michigan asparagus growers have bumper crop, need workers

LANSING—It’s only April, but Michigan trees are budding, flowers are blooming, and asparagus is popping up early on the state’s produce farms. Michigan’s asparagus growers are looking to hire hundreds of farm workers in the next two weeks to begin harvesting this year’s crop.

To help growers find the workers they need, the State of Michigan Workforce Development Agency is teaming up with the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board to host an Asparagus Industry Job Fair on Thursday, April 12, 2012, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at St. Joseph Parish Hall, 2349 W. Jackson Rd. in Hart, Michigan.

“Michigan’s asparagus growers help feed the nation, create jobs, and boost the state’s agricultural economy,” said Belen Ledezma, Director of Migrant, Immigrant and Seasonal Worker Services for the Workforce Development Agency, State of Michigan. “This year growers are in danger of losing their crop and the benefits it brings unless they can hire enough workers to harvest it. Our job fair will give people an opportunity to see what it takes to do the job and earn some extra springtime cash.”

The typical asparagus season in Michigan runs from mid-April through June. Michigan growers are looking to hire up to 229 workers immediately, with more openings expected in the coming weeks.

Michigan asparagus, unlike asparagus from other states, is hand-snapped above the ground, yielding a more tender and flavorful product. Workers harvest the asparagus while riding specially-designed picking carts. The job is physically demanding, and workers must have the ability to sit in a bent position for long periods of time, the strength to lift up to 25 lbs., excellent reach and coordination, and a willingness to work outdoors in all kinds of weather.

Asparagus workers typically are paid on a piece rate, with skilled harvesters earning more than $10.00 an hour. Workers are guaranteed to make at least Michigan’s minimum wage of $7.40 an hour.

“Last year, Michigan growers mowed off more than a million pounds of asparagus because we lacked an adequate workforce to harvest it,” said John Bekker, President of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board. “It is our hope that this job fair will help us avoid that outcome this year.”

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