Study cites labor losses for Georgia growers

01/09/2012 01:57:00 PM
Tom Karst

Specialty crop growers paid the biggest price for Georgia’s farm labor shortages last year, according to a Georgia Department of Agriculture report.

The study, mandated by Georgia lawmakers through a stricter immigration law that went into effect Jan. 1, used a 36-question survey of 813 Georgia producers, processors and others in agricultural services and marketing.

The survey said 26% of those who responded reported a loss of income due to the lack of available workers, with the most severe losses from specialty crop growers.

“Specifically, over 50% of the producers of blueberries, cabbage, cantaloupe, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, squash, tobacco, and watermelon reported income losses in 2011 due to lack of available workers,” according to the study.

The report found that 21% of the responders indicated fewer than average workers were hired in 2011 compared with the previous five years. Reasons for the reduction were blamed on a poor economy, loss of revenue, poor worker retention and lack of workers.

Georgia produce leaders have complained that the state’s immigration law, passed in May 2011, has had a negative effect on worker availability, despite the fact the first E-verify requirement didn’t go into effect until this year. Other enforcement provisions of the law worried migrant workers, industry leaders said.

“The rumors killed us,” said Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Association.

He said within the Latino community there were rumors that law enforcement officials would set up roadblocks at the state border and check immigration status.

“We attribute it back to House Bill 87, but it was people thinking they were going to be arrested at the border,” Hall said.

The report, released in early January, did not directly say the immigration law diminished the labor supply, but he said it was a possibility.

“It is unknown if the lack of full- and part-time workers in 2011 was a direct result of the passage of Georgia HB 87, however, the findings of this study suggest that this could be an issue,” according to the report.

“I think (the report) validated a lot of the feelings we had already within the fruit and vegetable industry,” Hall said.

A study by the University of Georgia released in October estimated economic damage to Georgia produce growers in 2011 attributed to labor shortages at near $74 million for growers of seven produce crops, representing nearly half of the state’s acreage of those commodities.

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