Labor Issues Affecting Harvest

California Faces Labor Issues

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

California Ag Today recently had the chance to interview Alex Ott, Executive Director of the California Apple Commission, California Blueberry Commission, and the California Olive Committee. He said the apple harvest went well, but there are labor issues in California that will be affecting the industry in the future.

Alex Ott

There is a big concern regarding the ongoing labor issues. These issues don’t just affect apples and blueberries, but other commodities as well. The increased rules and regulations in California are one component to the decrease in labor.

“You have all of the new rules, whether it be mandatory increase in wages, that obviously inflate a lot of the other wages that are currently already in existence,” Ott said.

Another cause is that they have done away with the ag exemption overtime. With all of the stress following that change, the stress is put on the labor and in this type of situation, the labor decreases.

“I think it is a combination of a lot more increased enforcement of what is going on down at the border, and as a result, you see a lot of folks that just are not available to work,” Ott explained. “Many workers will decide to just not go to work. Not only is the stress on the labor, but the growers as well. If the grower does not increase what he is bringing in, it makes it very difficult to pay the increased costs.”

California Represented at Fresh Summit In New Orleans

PMA Fresh Summit Happening Now, Oct. 19-21

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

The Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit brings together produce and floral industry leaders, retail buyers, food safety experts and importers and exporters from around the globe. A thousand exhibitors representing over 60 countries are at the Fresh Summit in New Orleans this week.

Alex Ott

“It’s a great opportunity to continue to meet with consumers and buyers and get the message out about the availability of California produce,” said Alex Ott, executive director of the California Apple Commission, California Blueberry Commission and the California Olive Committee told us about the Summit.

The Buy California Program will be a big part of the Fresh Summit this year, and Ott noted that it has been very positive for California apples and blueberries and olives.

“Getting the message out that California isn’t just Hollywood, but a big agricultural state as well, and we are there representing apples, blueberries and olives.

Regarding the 2017 blueberry crop, Ott noted that harvest went well and prices were good, however the price for processed blueberries were down this year.

“We were running about 10 days behind this year, but overall it was a very comparable year to last year as well. Not all the final numbers are in yet, but the fresh market was very, very good. Processed was not good,” Ott said.

“There was a lot of fruit out there and the processed prices were down significantly. And that had a huge impact on how many blueberries actually went to processing,” he said.

“The other unfortunate incident at the beginning of the year, is a lot of our friends in Georgia and some of the other southeast States, experienced a freeze, which impacted the crop, but on the other hand, was … good movement for California fresh blueberries,” Ott said.


Despite Great Harvest, California Apple Growers Face Challenges

California Apple Growers Face Regulatory Disadvantage

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director


Many California apple growers are in the midst of harvest season right now. Alex Ott, executive director of the Clovis-based California Apple Commission expects a 3% increase in production across the country. Ott foresees a 1% increase in California this season, where apples stand out because of their freshness.

“California is the fifth largest producer of apples in the United States,” Ott explained. “We are about the third largest exporter of apples in the United States. We like to pick, pack and ship. Unlike other states that like to store fruit and have that fruit around longer, California apple growers like to get in and get out,” Ott said.california-apple-commission-logo California Apple

“We have a small marketing window and we pride ourselves on fresh crops,” Ott elaborated. “So we try to get out of the market no later than December. Sometimes we go as late as January, but the idea is to [quickly] fill that niche window between the Chilean and the Washington state fruit.”

Alex Ott, executive director of the Clovis-based California Apple Commission
Alex Ott, executive director of the Clovis-based California Apple Commission

Yet, the California apple industry faces challenges going forward. Ott stated, “Over the last five years, California apple crop production has decreased by nearly 39%. A lot of that has to do with the changing of the crops. Any time you start to see an uptick in another crop, especially when it is not hand labor-intensive like apples, you will see a migration to those types of crops.”

Transitioning toward less labor-intensive crops may accelerate since Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 1066. This bill will enable California farm employees to accrue overtime pay after working an 8-hour day, instead of a 10-hour day.

“It’s definitely going to be a challenge for California apple growers,” Ott said, especially given the labor shortage. “So apple production in the state will decrease.”

Ott lamented many countries already produce a lot of these other less labor-intensive crops. AB 1066 definitely puts us at a competitive disadvantage in keeping up with demand. The challenge is how can California apple growers compete with farmers in other state and countries who can do it faster and cheaper?

Apple Growers Stuggle

As Temps Heat Up, Apple Growers Struggle

By Courtney Steward, Associate Editor

As temperatures of early summer grow hotter, farmers of permanent crops, such as apple growers, are starting to struggle due to the lack of adequate water  to keep crop production where it needs to be. Alex Ott,  executive director of the California Apple Commission, based in Fresno, shared part of struggle.

“It’s always a challenge, especially when you are in your 4th year of drought,” Ott began. “Our biggest concerns, obviously, are about excessive heat and lack of water for the trees that are in the ground. But we’re also concerned that, first, we have a crop; and second, that the crop sizes well.”

Yet, despite the drought challenges, Ott noted the crop looks good. “The crops have good quality and look like we’re definitely going to be up—compared to last year—which is good. Last year, the crop was very light. It was a tough year for growers.”

“I think that the trees came back with some good vigor and were able to set a nice crop this year,” he said. “The conditions this spring were perfect for bloom, So, we are excited to see a good size crop,”


Apple Commission Joins Listeria Outbreak Investigation in Caramel Apples

California Victim Represents the First Wrongful Death Suit in this Listeria Outbreak


By Laurie Greene, CalAgToday reporter and editor

On December 19, 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that it is collaborating with several states and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in an investigation of the outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infection (listeriosis) in commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples.
The first wrongful death lawsuit was filed in California by James Raymond Frey on behalf of his late wife, Shirlee Jean Frey, 81, against Safeway Inc. over the commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples, implicated in a 10-state Listeria outbreak responsible for a total of 29 people (as of yesterday) who have been hospitalized, including five deaths.
Though the product in question was linked to Carnival brand and Kitchen Cravings brand caramel apples, specifically, CDC is warning the public not to eat caramel apples–plain or with nuts or other toppings, but clarified, “at this time, no illnesses related to this outbreak have been linked to apples that are not caramel-coated and not prepackaged or to caramel candy.” Safeway removed the product from it shelves.
The investigation is still working to determine specific brands or types of commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples that may be linked to the illnesses.
Listeria is one of the more deadly food pathogens. The most recent Listeria outbreak occurred three years ago from Colorado-grown contaminated cantaloupes, causing three dozen deaths. The pathogen  affects primarily women, newborns, older adults and other people with compromised immune systems. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches and gastrointestinal problems.
The California Apple Commission is working with other apple producing states and the U.S. Apple Association on this issue.  Should California apple growers receive any calls regarding this issue or need additional information, please contact Alexander Ott, Executive Director the Commission office in Fresno by email at or phone 1-559-225-3000.
Photo source: CDC