President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown is worrying some of the nation’s blueberry farmers.
Bill Mortellite, the third generation of his family to grow blueberries in Hammonton, New Jersey, the self–described “Blueberry Capital of the World,” typically needs about 125 workers to harvest his 240-acre farm. This year, he thinks he will be lucky to find 10 pickers because many people are so worried about Trump’s tough talk on immigration that they don’t want to take the risk of working in New Jersey’s blueberry fields.
The Trump administration’s immigration restrictions “are going to push us out of business,” said Morterllite, whose operation is called Blueberry Bill Farms, in an interview, joking that “I hope Donald Trump comes to pick, because I would hire him.”
New Jersey is the country’s fifth-largest blueberry producer, generating $79.5 million in sales in 2014 (the latest data that’s available). Labor is a particularly dicey issue for the state’s berry farmers because most of their crop winds up in the fresh produce market. They prefer that berries be picked by hand because machines tend to sweep up green, unripe berries along with sweet blue ones, costing them sales and hurting profits.
Still, to be on the safe side Mortellite said he purchased a used mechanical harvest because of the potential labor shortage.
“We have three strikes against us,” he said. “The weather is not good. The market is not good and government policy is not good.”
As in other parts of the U.S, many of the field hands New Jersey farmers hire at harvest time come from Mexico, with Americans showing little interest in the grueling work. New Jersey’s blueberry season, which starts in June, lasts about four weeks. Growers are now trying to arrange with contractors to provide crews of migrant workers for the picking season.
By JONATHAN BERR for CBS NEWS
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