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Some Colorado farmers seeing shortage in workers ahead of harvest season

The Bartels Farm.jpg
Posted at 11:46 AM, Sep 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-17 13:46:11-04

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Fort Collins farmer Doug Bartels said he can't get the help he needs for this year's fall harvest and believes pandemic unemployment checks are to blame.

On top of that, the work is not for the faint of heart.

"We’ve had a few people come up and ask," Bartels said. "They come out late in the season or they come out and volunteer and then they don’t come back because they find out it’s hard work."

"Few" is the operative word for Bartels, who owns and runs The Bartels Farm. He said he blames pandemic-related unemployment benefits, even though the last checks went out just after Labor Day.

"Everybody’s getting paid to stay home. Maybe if the incentive wasn’t there, they would be out a little more," Bartels said.

Bartels received about 30% fewer applications this year.

Twenty minutes down the road, Alex Zeidner’s farm Folks Farm and Seed, which is small but growing, saw about a 50% increase in people looking to work this summer.

"We’ve been lucky to pull people in that maybe want to make a change or try something out," Zeidner said.

It's a big difference from last year, when the farm didn’t need many workers since so many people came out to lend a helping hand for free.

"During the pandemic, a lot of people had more free time, so we had a lot more volunteers coming up. That really freed us up and we only had one or two people employed last year," Zeidner said.

Bartels isn’t looking for a lot of full-time employees — maybe five good workers, he said. Just a couple of extra hands picking pumpkins for the fall season means a lot less hours in the field for Bartels and his wife.

"Sixteen-hour days — easy. You’re up at 5 and you come in by 8 or 9 and sometimes not even that early," Bartels said of the extra hours he will have to work without more employees.

Bartels gets by on his “you pick” honor system, which the century-old farm has been doing for years. The farmer said if they don’t get the help they need from employees or volunteers, it will still get done.

"It just all pays off. This is our season, it’s like Santa Claus," Bartels said.