Strawberry season starts early with worker shortage for harvest

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A warm spring has delivered abundant strawberries for farmers across western Washington, but the early season has also created a lack of workers to harvest them. (WLS)

Warm spring temperatures have delivered an abundance of strawberries for farmers across western Washington, but the early season has also created alarming concern for farmers who say a lack of workers has hindered their harvest, reports KOMO-TV.

"It's very frustrating because it takes all year to grow these things," said Mike Biringer, who owns Biringer Farm in Arlington, Wash.

The 79-year-old farmer has been growing berries for more than 55 years and says this season's harvest is one of the best.

"The berries are excellent," said Biringer. "I've never seen them any better."

But for the second year in a row, Biringer Farm has had a shortage of workers to pick strawberries. On a normal day during the high season, 70 people would be working the harvest in the fields. On Wednesday, only nine people were picking berries.

"If they don't get harvested they'll just rot on the vines," said Dianna Biringer, Mike's wife and farming partner.

Biringer Farm is estimating they'll lose about 20 percent of their strawberry crop this season and they blame the lack of people who want to pick strawberries. They aren't the only berry farm struggling to find workers.

"Right now if I have 12 workers in the morning I'll be lucky," said Ievenii Shaverda, who supervises the berry pickers at Biringer Farm. "One machine holds 12 people and we have to work with what we get."

Mike Biringer says their workforce in the strawberry field is mainly students, who are still in school during the unusually early strawberry season. Although, he adds, a group of about 10 teens have been coming to the farm to pick berries for about three hours after school each day.

"We have so many berries this year, so many berries that just won't get picked if we don't get enough pickers," said Shaverda.

The farm also has a U-pick area where anyone can come pick their own fresh strawberries. The season is expected to last through July 4.

Strawberry pickers can make up to $25 an hour.

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