Fruit pickers, often referred to as harvesters, are an important part of the agriculture industry because fruit is delicate and requires gentle harvesting techniques. Mechanized picking machines can damage or destroy fruit during the picking process. Approximately 75 percent of U.S. vegetables are machine harvested, but less than half of fruit cops use mechanized labor, according to Rural Migration News. Fruit pickers must be detail-oriented, fast and reliable so they can remove fruit without loss. Orchard managers have their own procedures for harvesting fruit, so pickers must learn procedures and tips to satisfy their boss's expectations.
Fruit pickers harvest, sort and gather fruit with their hands. Some use small knives or tools to cut fruit from branches and vines. To harvest some fruits, such as apples, oranges and peaches, you must be able to climb a ladder, remove the fruit and place it in your satchel or basket without injury. Other fruits, such as strawberries, grow on low-lying plants, so you must have the endurance and strength to bend over for long periods of time. Fruit harvesters must be available to work seasonal jobs when fruit is ripe for picking. You must be able to withstand inclement weather, such as wind or rain, if fruit needs to be harvested immediately. Orchard managers and farm owners don't want their crops to spoil or rot. A formal education isn't required to pick fruit, and you'll likely receive on-the-job training.
Speed, Finesse and Accuracy
Pickers are expected to work quickly and efficiently because many are paid by the bin or basket. For example, peach pickers at some California farms were paid $16 per bin, regardless of how long it took to fill the container, according to a 2012 Huff Post Business article. Fruit pickers must have good overall health and adequate strength, so they can continually harvest, sort and gather fruit without fatigue. Strong hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills and endurance are top job requirements.
Investigative Skills: Worms?
Fruit harvesters must carefully, yet quickly, inspect fruit for signs of disease, insect manifestations, worms and rot. Orchard managers typically hire trained and licensed experts to treat trees or vines with pesticides and other chemicals to reduce damage or loss. Fruit pickers must notify owners and managers when they see troublesome insects or signs of decay. It's the picker's responsibility to sort good product from contaminated or rotting fruit to ensure produce is routed to appropriate facilities for cleaning and distribution.
All in a Day's Work
In 2012, the median annual wage for fruit pickers, farm laborers and crop, nursery and greenhouse workers was $18,670, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job prospects for those who can speak both Spanish and English are most promising through 2022. According to a 2012 CBS report in Sacramento, California, some orchard owners had trouble retaining fruit pickers because wages were so low. As a result, some owners raised their pay for each bin of fruit to encourage workers to apply for fruit-picking jobs. Immigration laws and a struggling U.S. economy also have made it difficult for workers to cross the border to secure fruit harvesting jobs. Seasons of drought also impact the demand for fruit pickers because crops aren't always as healthy or robust as expected.
2016 Salary Information for Agricultural Workers
Agricultural workers earned a median annual salary of $23,560 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, agricultural workers earned a 25th percentile salary of $20,930, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $28,030, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 856,300 people were employed in the U.S. as agricultural workers.