Possible labor shortage concerns Western growers as harvest peaks

08/02/2011 05:31:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

“A lot of growers left crop in the field,” he says.

An unscientific survey showed 11,000 farm jobs were vacant.

Growers tried to fill the void by hiring local help, but with few takers, Hall says. The state made headlines when Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal announced a plan to put probationers to work in the fields harvesting crops.

One of the conditions of probation for these non-violent offenders is they have to work, according to a press release from the Georgia Department of Corrections. Of the 8,000 probationers in southwest Georgia, 25 percent are unemployed.

The experiment has yielded mixed results, with most probationers walking off farm jobs during the first week.

The peach season, which runs through August, hasn’t been hit as hard by labor shortages because the state’s four largest peach growers rely on the H2-A guest worker program, Hall says.

“Most of the H2-A employers haven’t had the problems of the non-H2-A employers,” he says.

Nevertheless, those peach growers have seen contract requests denied by the Department of Labor, fewer workers and workers arriving one to two weeks late, Hall says.

And he says he fears the situation won’t improve next season.

“There’s a good chance it’s going to be worse next year,” he says.

By now, vegetable growers have had to make plans of what to plant this summer for October and November harvest, he says.

“There are a lot of growers right now who have to make decisions about what they’re going to do in the fall,” Hall says. “Some growers would rather not make money than put plants in and not be able to harvest them.

“Cotton prices are very good and corn prices are good, so some growers are seriously looking at row crops next year.”

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