Bruce Talbott relies on temporary visas to harvest his peaches. Even so, he has faced a significant labor shortage for the last two years running.
Picture 100 bins’ worth of peaches rotting in the hot July sun. That’s what America’s broken immigration system has led to for Bruce Talbott and Talbott Mountain Gold.
Talbott has been managing the orchards on a 400-acre farm that has been in his family since the early 1900s. Over the past decade, he has noticed fewer and fewer young immigrants coming through Colorado to work on his farm. In the past two years, this labor shortage has become severe enough that he’s had to leave fruit rotting in the fields during peak harvest time—the brief period during which his farm makes about 70 percent of its revenue.
Peaches, Talbott’s main crop, have to be picked at precisely the right moment in order to make sure they’re perfectly ripe, which means trees have to be picked over every 48 hours. During peak harvest time in July, workers must be in the orchard, in the sun, for 10 or 11 hours. It’s grueling work, and Talbott says it’s very difficult to find American workers who are available and who will stick it out for more than a few days. “Between the heat and the peach fuzz and all day long out in the sun, most available Americans aren’t up to that,” Talbott says. “We can get bodies at least up until we get into harvest or until it gets hot, but then there just isn’t anybody out there.”
The farm participates in the federal temporary visa program to bring in additional workers for the harvest. Without that program, Talbott says, “We’d have walked away from half the crop.” But this program doesn’t allow Talbott to hire the number of immigrants that he really needs. In the past two years, he hasn’t been able to find enough workers to harvest all of his trees. The result was devastating. The farm lost about 100 bins of peaches—worth $1,000 a bin—in 2014, and another 100 bins in 2015. “We couldn’t get there quick enough,” Talbott says.