Help wanted at central Pennsylvania orchards

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BUTLER TOWNSHIP, ADAMS COUNTY, Pa.-- One of Pennsylvania's leading industries has something in common with Trump Wineries in Virginia.

The winery recently gained attention for its need to hire two dozen foreign workers because it says it can't find enough help.

The owners at many agricultural businesses in Adams County say they face the same problem.

The fruit trees have just started to bud at Hollabaugh Bros. Fruit Farm near Biglerville.

Fruit picking season may seem like a long time away, but the season for hiring is now.

Hollabaugh Bros., Inc. co-owner Brad Hollabaugh said "the flow of workers that I recall used to be passing through here all the time has really slowed, and it comes down to the nitty gritty for us."

Finding workers from central Pennsylvania is a challenge for people who manage ag businesses.

"Our operation covers about 500 acres here. We grow a lot of tree fruit crops, vegetable crops, small fruits. We need a lot of hands, we need skilled hands. We need the hands of people who can endure the elements and truthfully are happy doing that kind of work," Hollabaugh said.

Some orchard operators may seek guest workers from other countries, but with a backlog on H-2A foreign worker visas, it can take up to a year to hire farm hands who come with strict regulations.

"And despite the effort of U.S. Apple and the state board associations of Pennsylvania, the individual growers constantly talking to our congressmen and senators about how to fix or repair or improve this system, it isn't happening," Hollabaugh said.

Hollabaugh believes the crackdown on illegal immigration might have scared off legal immigrants workers.

"Because let's not show ourselves more than we need to if we're legal, because the political climate right now is a little untenable," Hollabaugh said.

Meanwhile, the concern for Pennsylvania Ag growers to find people willing to do the work, doesn't go away.

"Losing our workforce or a significant portion of it, or the failure to be able to recruit or bring workers here means our crops go in the ground, and we go out of business," Hollabaugh said.

Hollabaugh said he hires temporary visa workers from Hati and Mexico, but hasn't resorted to using the H-2A visa program yet.

Hollabaugh said it's a difficult process which requires businesses to plan a year in advance, plus the rules dictate how the employees work, salary and wages, as well as providing frequent transportation and housing.