US (FL): Strawberry grower faces labor shortage

Gary Wishnatzki and his family-owned berry farm have made a home in Plant City since 1922, growing all kinds of berries year-round.

But for the past 20 years, Wish Farms has faced a dilemma that could have major effects on future strawberry sales, and the amount shoppers shell out for produce.

The manual labor crews the farm depends upon to pick their strawberries has shrunk and aged so much that workers can no longer physically handle the task.

Strawberry picking has remained the same for the past 100 years. It's a strenuous job, Wishnatzki said, and requires young people who can hunch over plants for hours to pluck the strawberries.

Without that labor, the price of the red berries could skyrocket to $4 per pound.

“When I started working in the industry back in the 1970s, strawberries were a luxury item in the winter time when we were harvesting here in Central Florida. You couldn't find strawberries in the grocery stores in these months because they were expensive and they went to northern markets,” Wishnatzki said. “Today, people have become used to cheap, affordable fruits and vegetables, particularly strawberries. And I'm afraid we're heading back to this if we don't solve the labor issue.”

Read more at The Florida Times-Union (Sarah Nelson)

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