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Labor issues are obstacle for Indiana farmers with high-value crops

Labor issues are obstacle for Indiana farmers with high-value crops
Developing plan to deal with labor for harvest can make or break your farm business.

Jared Cordes returned with his family to Roann after working off the farm in 2013. He invested in 10 acres of a high-value crop- blackberries.

Part of his learning curve was figuring out how to raise a good crop. The other challenge is working with a labor force to get them harvested. After 2015, it looks like Cordes has made great progress in growing the crop, but still has to iron out issues with the labor side of the business.

2015 started out great. It was the third year for the plants, and the first real shot at decent production. The plentiful rainfall in early spring and summer produced a bumper crop of blackberries. Then when the rain stopped, conditions were ideal for picking.

Complicated business: Labor, refrigeration, trucking- those are all issues Jared Cordes must master, and he must do it at the same time he's mastering growing the berries.

But some late-summer labor issues—his crew wasn't big enough to handle this year's abundant crop, plus a temporary work stoppage—wound up costing Cordes about 35% of the season's potential yield. Even so, however, he says he made money, although not as much as he'd anticipated, and that his revenue projections were still pretty much on target.

"We'd hoped to be able to buy a new tractor this fall, and improve our refrigeration facilities, but that will have to wait for another year," he says.

He also has learned some important lessons from his labor issues, and has a plan to improve on that next year. And with a high-value crop, Cordes says he's still on track to be able to pay off his initial investment in four or five years.

After three years, Cordes is glad he made the decision to take an alternate route into farming, and says all of the rewards aren't necessarily economic.

"I wanted to have my wife, Erica, and our kids (they have six) be a part of this, and that's been good," he says. "It's been kind of fun having the kids work out here this summer, and not just hang out in the house playing computer games."

For others contemplating the unconventional, Cordes has some advice.

"Do your research first, and don't worry if some others might think you're crazy," he says. "Also, realize that you're not going to be able to ask your neighbor, 'How do I do this?' If you want to get ahead and do better for yourself, you can't do the same thing everybody else is doing." (Boone writes from Wabash)

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