Dawn of another Olathe Sweet harvest
OLATHE — In a field off Carnation Road, seven miles northwest of Olathe, a harvest crew began working at first light Saturday morning to fill the first truckload of super-sweet corn.
The crop, grown on some 1,500 acres, is the largest planting ever for Tuxedo Corn, but due to a slow start and cool spring, some of those acres had to be removed, said Kyle Martinez of Tuxedo Corn.
The corn was aided by recent monsoon weather, according to Tuxedo Corn farmer John Harold, who said daily rain mixed with sun created much-needed humidity.
“In all my time I don’t remember a year when we had that much humidity for that period of time,” Harold said.
The crop will be harvested by four harvest crews: two made up of local labor from Montrose, Olathe and Delta; and two crews of workers from Mexico on federal H-2A visas.
The 50 percent local labor is up from 33 percent a year ago, Harold said, but it could take until the end of next week for the company to determine whether the local labor will be reliable for the season.
“Everybody wants to work until they know there’s work involved,” Harold said.
He said he recently had three workers quit within five minutes of each other, adding to the uneasiness as the company is under contract to ship 319,000 boxes of corn out of state by Aug. 13. The total estimate for the 2011 crop is 610,000 boxes, or more than 29 million ears of corn. In addition to the boxes, Tuxedo delivers 50,000 to 70,000 ears of corn to the annual Olathe Sweet Corn Festival, scheduled for Aug. 5–6.
Some of the migrant workers from Mexico have been harvesting the same fields for more than 20 years. Harold knows he can count on them for the full harvest.
Twenty-five years ago, though, there was no migrant labor, Harold said. Mostly local high school kids took on the summer corn harvest. Things have changed. The high school kids have surrendered the work for easier summer jobs.
Having two crews with local workers is a credit to those who showed up to start the harvest. Some local applicants never made it to the fields.
“I have a stack of applications as long as my arm, but when we called them to work, they had other things to do,” Harold said.