For the most part, the task of finding enough labor should not be problematic for Ohio vegetable growers this season.

The flu outbreak in Mexico has complicated the labor picture for GroCo Farms Inc., Jamestown, said Mark Guess, president.

“Labor is a bit of an uncertainty because of the swine flu,” he said in mid-May. “We’re finally getting some people coming, and things could get better as long as there’s no other outbreak.”

Unlike some other growers, GroCo does not expect to tap into the pool of locals for labor this season, Guess said.

GroCo relies on H-2A guest workers for its labor force, Guess said.

Don Bettinger, president of Bettinger Farms Inc., Swanton, Ohio, also doesn’t foresee a problem finding enough hands to pick Buckeye State crops this year.

Bettinger Farms expects to begin harvesting sweet corn about July 20 this year.

Many laborers in the company’s greenhouse flower operation also pick its sweet corn crop, Bettinger said.
“We have a lot (of workers) in our greenhouse now,” he said. “We have a permanent crew of Mexicans who live here. We house them.”

Loren Buurma, co-owner of Buurma Farms Inc., Willard, Ohio, also didn’t foresee any labor-related issues in 2009.

And while the pool of local labor is growing, Buurma also said there may not be any open spots available for locals this year.

“There seem to be plenty around,” he said. “The local economy in Ohio is terrible. Many of the workers who left 10 or 20 years ago for a factory job have come back and said, ‘Can I have my old job back?’”

“But we have the same crew we’ve had year after year,” he said. “There are 100 people on our signup (waiting) list right now. There are a lot more signed up than we have openings.”

Guess, however, expected labor prices to be comparable to last year.

Up to 30% more locals than usual have been inquiring about work at Doug Walcher Farms, North Fairfield, Ohio, said Ken Holthouse, general manager.

When they came in mid-May, all Walcher Farms could tell them was to come back in three weeks, Holthouse said — they had plenty of help already.

And the company could be set for workers for the whole season.

“We’re not worried about anything at this point,” Holthouse said. “We think we’ll have some of our regular laborers back.”

The abundance of workers this year could be an advantage for shippers, said Jim Wiers, president of Wiers Farm Inc./Dutch Maid.

“It allows us to upgrade in the skill positions,” he said. “We’re seeing more individuals applying here early because of the economy. I don’t anticipate any labor problems at all.”