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During busy time, apple orchards face worker shortages

The national labor shortage is also impacting Minnesota apple orchards. An orchard in Delano is down about 50 employees.

DELANO, Minnesota — It's been a busy season so far at Apple Jack Orchards in Delano.

Owner Mary Kahler said last season they had maybe half as many customers due to the pandemic. 

"Everybody has time to come out to the orchard. That's wonderful, but we have no employees," Kahler said. 

In the past, the orchard has always had extra people available that they can call last-minute. This year, Kahler said they could use 50 more employees. 

Wages vary, but a teenager starting out makes about $13 per hour and it can quickly rise to $16 or $17. 

"No matter what we would offer in wages, which of course we keep raising our wages all the time, people just don't even apply," Kahler said. 

Kahler said it means their cow train, which typically runs on the weekends, isn't always available because they won't have anyone available to drive it. The same goes for their apple cannon. 

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"Literally peoples' aunts and uncles and one of my manager's grandfathers is doing the cow train. Out of the kindness of peoples' hearts they're helping out," she said. 

Shifts are also impacted by COVID-19. 

"The kids are wonderful that can show up, but then when their school says, 'Oh, everybody is going to quarantine for however long because of COVID,' they are good kids so they call and say, 'We can't come to work either.' Even though none of them have COVID, they can't come to work. So it's a constant scramble," Kahler said. 

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Employee Marlis Doboszenski was getting apples ready for pies and crisp on Tuesday afternoon. She said a job meant for five or six is now being done by two. 

"It's 12:30 and I'm still working on this where this should've been done yesterday," Doboszenski said. 

Besides a labor shortage, they're dealing with supply chain issues. 

"All the packaging... can't get it. We can't get our pop and water so I run to Costco twice a week," Kahler said. 

Some orchards are also facing apple shortages because of drought.

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KTTC reported that Northwoods Apple Orchard in Oronoco is only having customers purchase pre-packed apples because of the shortage. 

"The quantity of apples is simply not there, and so to have apples available for folks to pick their own, there is just nothing there," Tom Eckdahl of Northwoods Orchard told KTTC. 

Kahler said Apple Jack Orchards was able to avoid apple shortages thanks to their irrigation system. 

Afton Apple Orchard in Hastings was also able to irrigate. They have some smaller apples but still a decent crop. The orchard is down about a dozen employees, and they have had to delay their corn maze opening because of it. 

Applewood Orchard in Lakeville also told KARE 11 they're experiencing staffing shortages at this time. 

Kahler said those interested in a job at Apple Jack Orchards can reach out to them via their website or Facebook