Overlapping seasons in California annually crunch growers who compete for workers in a pickers’ market as field laborers leave one commodity in mid-harvest for higher wages offered by growers seeking first-to-market status when their commodity’s harvest begins.

Some fresh fig growers and marketers say that competition is particularly stiff this year.

They predict fresh fig labor costs will be 5% to 15% higher for 2013, depending on orchard locations and fig varieties.

Karla Stockli, chief executive officer for the California Fig Advisory Board, said the ongoing nature of fresh fig harvests — which send pickers back to the same orchards repeatedly as fruit matures in waves — creates a difficult situation.

“When different commodities are competing for the same workers it increases costs,” Stockli said. “Fresh fig producers have to pay more when other crops start coming on.”

Marc Marchini, sales and marketing manager for J. Marchini Farms, estimates a 15% increase in labor costs for the Le Grand, Calif.-based company this year. He said the cost of labor for fresh figs is already equal to all other production costs combined.

Good volumes along with an early start have Marchini optimistic that he can meet the costs, though.

“The market should return enough to growers to cover the cost of labor this season, based on how prices are looking and how the crop is coming in,” Marchini said.

Kevin Herman, president of the growers association and owner of The Specialty Crop Co., Madera, Calif., said labor accounts for half of his fresh fig production costs. He agrees he will pay more this season but is hopeful the increase won’t exceed 5%.

George Kragie, president of Western Fresh Marketing, Madera, said several factors have combined this season to increase fresh fig production costs.

“It’s a case of a grand storm with packaging up, labor up and more overlap with other harvests,” Kragie said.

“I think our growers could be paying 12% more for labor by the time everything winds up.”