Skip to comments.Major Northeast tomato grower ends crop over migrant shortage
Posted on 03/24/2008 3:39:21 PM PDT by raybbr
CLARKS SUMMIT, Pa. - Saying the nation's immigration system is broken, Pennsylvania's largest grower of fresh-to-market tomatoes announced Monday he will no longer produce the crop because he can't find enough workers to harvest it.
Keith Eckel, 61, a fourth-generation farmer and the owner of Fred W. Eckel Sons Farms, said he saw a dramatic decline last summer in the number of migrant workers who showed up to pick tomatoes at his 2,000-acre farm in northeastern Pennsylvania.
He said Congress' failure to approve comprehensive immigration reform had hindered his ability to hire enough workers to get his crop to the market. Most of Eckel's workers came from Mexico.
"There are a number of workers hesitant to travel, legal or illegal, because of the scrutiny they are now under," said Eckel, whose tomatoes have been shipped to supermarkets and restaurants throughout the eastern United States. "So there are less workers crossing state lines."
Eckel, who planted 2.2 million tomato plants last year, said he also will stop growing pumpkins and plant half as much sweet corn as usual, resulting in a loss of nearly 175 jobs.
Eckel, one of the largest growers of fresh-market tomatoes in the Northeast, said it cost him $1.5 million to $2 million to plant and harvest a tomato crop , too much of an investment to risk not having enough workers at harvest time.
"The system to provide our labor is broken and the emotion surrounding the immigration issue is standing in the way of those in the political arena moving forward to solve it," Eckel told a news conference at his farm in Clarks Summit.
(Excerpt) Read more at philly.com ...
um - lemme guess what hes gonna grow now....biofuel?
We have 20-40 mil illegals, along with the legal immigrants, guest worker programs, etc. and we can’t get some measley tomatos harvested? He is right, the system is broken but not the way he thinks it is broken.
More dishonest conflating of legal and illegal in order to play the victim card.
If the government stopped paying people not to work there would be plenty of help available.
Let Eckel and other hirers of illegals go belly up. Too bad ICE didn’t raid him during an earlier harvest.
Part of HIS job is to set a salary that will attract sufficient labor. Looks like a poor immigration strategy had been subsidizing the poor business practices of a (soon to be) poor businessman. Adapt or die.
Hmm. Lets see now.
How did we ever grow & harvest food and grain without 20 million illegal immigrants, again?
Since when did Pa. ever have a large immigrant population anyway, other than the last decade?
Employ illegals and lose your business should be the law of the land.
Sounds like a passage from Atlas Shrugged.
Isn’t that what summer vacation is for?
I believe Australia solved its grape picking problem by having engineers design machines to do the work. Imagine that. An Aussie gets to ride around on a mechanical harvester that does all the hard work. I'll bet they have air conditioning. I think they are using mechanical harvesters to pick grapes in California.
If Eckel wasn't such a cheap bsatrad resorting to slave wage immigrants, he could help the American economy improve productivity through innovation and technology. There is no shortage of illegal immigrants. The ones that are here want more money than he is willing to pay out.
Folks like Mr. Eckel helped create this problem. Now he has the audacity to blame the government when it bites him in the ass. He’s obviously a “compassionate” conservative.
Why doesn’t he use the same harvesting machines we use in California?
All he knows is he wants his illegal alien cheap labor and the rest can go to hell
We are inundated with illegal aliens but too many have figured out how to stay here without picking his tomatoes. If there was enforcement in other industries there would be plenty of illegals to pick crops
If McCain and Congress legalized 20 million illegal aliens what makes this guy think he will get his farm laborers?
Why should they work when they can just stay home and collect welfare and food stamps?
How sympathetic would this farmer sound if he said, "I can't find enough people to exploit and pay sh*t wages to."
The real phrase should be "...enough CHEAP workers".
This idiotic objection came up in California when the Bracero Program ended. The Braceros were replaced by harvesting machines. I rode the FMC tomato harvester and watched it do what the farmers said couldn't be done.
We'll never know if technology can do this work because idiots feel it is easier to exploit a whole class of people.
Ok so the price of tomatoes will skyrocket to $7/lb. Maybe that is the real price of tomatoes, not the illegal labor subsidized price.
Legalize the 20 million ( min wage, ss tax, state withholding, medical ) and this guy will scream he still needs illegals to work for the few scheckels he tosses them!
Obviously, you have never put your money on the line to try and turn a profit.
If you think this farmer is making a political statement and didn't try to find workers, your immigration psychosis is at a dangerous level.
This country has a SERIOUS problem with illegal immigrant, but doing NOTHING is just as bad.
Congress is doing this country a serious disservice to it's citizens by not addressing this issue in a balanced sensible fashion
So his solution was to have the gubmint bring in more workers. His next step would have to be make the gubmint prevent those workers from going to construction jobs which pay better and aren’t as back breaking for said workers. Does that about cover it?
boo hoo! I can’t pay slave wages so I’ll stop growing ‘maters. Boo hoo!
Wonder how hard he has tried. Nearly $17 an hour is a pretty high wage. When I was growing up in the sixties, we kids hired ourselves out to do harvest work. The whole school district would shut down for two to three weeks to allow everyone to work. We would choose a picking partner, dress in warm clothes (it was usually early October) and go to the designated pickup place (often the schoolyard) to wait for some farmer to pick us, load us in the back of his pickup and drive us to the fields. We worked from dawn to dusk, making at first, $.07 per hundredweight of potatoes picked and bagged. The first year I was seven years old and my partner and I each used baskets designed to hold fifty pounds of potatoes, to be dumped into gunny sacks which held two baskets’ worth of potatoes. We earned, together, $1.63 for that first day’s labor—partly because our arms were too short to properly hold the gunny sack and partly because we were too little to lift 50 pounds at a time. Later I worked on combines where pay was more like $1.50 an hour. If we were lucky we worked everyday for the whole harvest break and then went back to school with new clothes and Christmas shopping money.
There were plenty of migrant workers doing the same thing, making a lot more money, but it didn’t seem there was much of a shortage of Gringos working also. It’s a different world, though. My kids turn their noses up at fast food jobs or retail jobs as “beneath” them.
“This country has a SERIOUS problem with illegal immigrant, but doing NOTHING is just as bad.”
The fields beside my parents NC place produce millions of tomatoes each year. A few years ago the grower sold out to a group of Mexican pickers who cleaned it up and made it more productive than it’s ever been.
“Folks like Mr. Eckel helped create this problem.”
FOURTH GENERATION or this farm, That would be around a 100 years, so he knows the financial story far better than anyone else here.
You response is accurate, but incomplete.
He is forced to compete with other farmers who aren't hassled about the status of THEIR workers.
The solution is to enforce the immigration laws evenly.
why would a legal worker be afraid to cross state lines ?
perhaps this farmer doesn’t want to pay a decent wage...
Exactly what part of that statement is BS?
We do have a serious illegal immigrant problem, our borders are being overrun
Congress has done nothing palpable to the American public to address this problem
McCain / Kennedy was not he answer
Tomatoes can grow inside too!
Little Space? Grow Vegetables inside
What are the odds this “farmer” is a millionaire but is too cheap to pay Americans a decent wage. And an earlier poster is probably spot on — my bet is he plants corn for fuel and gets his government subsidy to boot.
I emailed the newspaper with the following: RE: Farmer Keith Eckel to end tomato planting due to decrease in illegal migrant workers. Did Michael Rubinkam ask Eckel whether he had actually tried to advertise locally/nationally for laborers for this or last season? I can guarantee you that my 17 year old son, who now works as a dishwasher for minimum wage, would gladly pick tomatoes for $16 per hour. I also would consider that job over the high-stress job I now have, which does not pay as much. Me, Johnstown, PA
Didn’t McLame say that gringos wouldn’t pick lettuce for $50 an hour?
Bet we’ll pick tomatoes for it!
THANK YOU! Back in my day we picked strawberries and ‘pickles’. We were happy to earn our own money. NOW, I hear about illegals who don’t mind doing the jobs I used to do.
“um - lemme guess what hes gonna grow now....biofuel?”
Make more money that way than upping labor pay a couple of bucks an hour.
He complains about the government, but I don’t see him refusing those farm subsidies.
Keith and Fred Eckel have collected more farm subsidy money than than anyone else in Clarks Summit, Pa from 1995 to 2005. Top two slots, as a matter of fact.
$271,853.49 plus $142,702.39.
I picked tomatoes after the ex dropped me and kids off in TN and took off (that's one reason for being the ex) and I needed money to get back home. My kids helped pick, and they were 7 and 8 1/2 years old. We picked from 6 a.m. until dark. The crews were all US citizens, mostly teenagers and a few older gentlemen, none hispanic.
As kids from about age 12, my brothers and I picked strawberries, peaches, apples, watermelons, cataloupes, detassled corn, and bucked bales during summer break-whatever work we could get. I milked 75 cows for an elderly farmer who couldn't do it anymore my last 2 years in high school-before and after school. That included cleaning tanks, rounding up the cows, feeding the cows, etc. One brother put himself through college cleaning tanks in a cheese factory. My job was cushy compared to his.
And, I'm female.
If folks in this country get hungry enough, they will work. Until then...well, I don't know what to think about our spoiledness anymore.
I didn't find that in the article. He claims he can't find workers, not he could not pay them enough.
But at some point, the doesn't pay to plant if you have to pay wages to don't leave you any profits
You're familiar with the old adage: "Necessity is the mother of invention"? Well, robotics and mechanical solutions are in the works for a whole lot of harvests where it was previously deemed impossible.
I recall seeing a "Modern Marvels" on harvesting equipment, where they brought up the topic of illegal immigration, and migrant worker shortages, and how they were driving innovation.
I'll take a little higher price for tomatoes or whatever in the short term while the farmers and farm equipment mfg's, improvise, adapt and overcome. Rather than rely on cheap slave (illegal) labor.
Bingo! We have a winner!
Nailed that right on the head. That used to be considered the traditional student job.
You would think the 4H groups would be leveraged for harvesting.
Ever grow tomatoes? It’s about the most labor intensive crop on the face of the earth. A neighbor of mine grows thirty acres. He has to employ around fifteen people to manage the crop over about three months. That’s just for thirty acres! Too much water, too little water, too much sun, too little sun, cracking, blistering, bugs, fungus, and picking from each plant when the fruits are just right is endless. He drives a truck load of around 2000lbs to markets in Chicago from July thru September almost every day. Good summer job for college kids. $8.00 per hour.
Well, another generation and the kids of those illegals won’t do it. The work ethic is an endangered species. Thanks for picking strawberries and cukes. While my work was labor-intensive, it was at least nice and cool. Harvest back then didn’t start until at least one good frost had killed the vines. Then it was breakneck speed to harvest before a killer frost got down to the potatoes themselves. I understand things have changed since then, with potatoes being harvested earlier in order to cut down the bruising that increases with the cold. I know it increased our bruises.
I remember (boy am I getting nostalgic) one year in high school when I returned to school after three weeks on a combine. I became close with an adult woman on my crew and one evening I was doing a Candy Striper shift at our hospital when I saw her in the emergency room. She was lying on a gurney, holding a wad of cloth on her hand. She smiled when she saw me and then whipped off the bandage to show me her index finger now an inch shorter than that morning. Combines were dangerous to fingers. More than once a glove would be ripped off or torn, just missing fingers. She said she got careless.
Life was tough back then but the people were even tougher.