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Pueblo chile farms not spared from nationwide labor shortage

Fewer and fewer wholesalers are choosing to carry locally grown good and opting for cheaper ones from Mexico, according to Milberger
Posted at 7:25 PM, Jul 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-19 11:05:40-04

PUEBLO — The labor shortage that has been plaguing industries all across the nation is also impacting Pueblo chile farmers, as we enter roasting season.

"There are not people out there who are willing to work on the farms anymore… Generally they only last three to four hours," said Shane Milberger, Owner of Milberger Farms.

He says that "if you show up, you're hired immediately" to come and work for him, making more than minimum wage no matter the position.

However, he says that is still not enough to attract new employees. According to one report, farms employed 11% less in the months of January and April this year, than in 2020.

If the labor shortage continues, Milberger says he understands that farms will suffer tremendously and have to resort to increasing the prices of their crops.

On top of the staffing problem, a new law that was signed at the end of June requires all farms to pay minimum wage, and prohibits certain farming activities, like using a "short-handled hoe" to cultivate crops.

Milberger says that without this tool, they cannot clean their crops properly.

"That means we're going to eliminate some crops, and not grow certain crops, or the cost of that crop is going to be substantially raised"

Lawmakers who helped to draft SB21-087 say the piece of legislation is intended to grant all agriculture workers basic workplace rights..

"Whatever we're harvesting, they want to take it home, we give it to them. We don't treat these people like they think we do," said Milberger.

Milberger says that the 2020 season was surprisingly one of the farm's best yet.

"I don't know if there was really any benefits to COVID, but one thing that did happen last year was there were more and more people going back to the old school ways as far as canning, and preserving, and freezing more products."

However, he says he projects that this year could be one of the worst in a long time.

"The guys who buy wholesale are utilizing more product from Mexico than they are from here, and they're using the cheap prices out of Mexico against us."

When asked if he believes the industry is sustainable as the way circumstances are right now, Milberger said no.

"The way it is going, it is not sustainable for the growers to continue."