Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black has released a report on agricultural labor in the state, recommending that the federal government provide farmers with a guest worker program that’ll help them harvest their crops legally and efficiently.

The report was required by Georgia House Bill 87 — a strict immigration reform law passed in 2011 by the state’s General Assembly.

Surveys and studies conducted since the law’s passage have revealed farm labor shortages and negative economic impacts. Though none of the findings mention the law specifically, many farmers complained that House Bill 87 frightened away immigrant workers, resulting in some crops rotting in the fields.

Among other things, House Bill 87 empowers police to investigate the immigration status of certain suspects and sets new hiring requirements for certain employers, requiring many to start using the federal program called E-Verify to confirm that their newly hired employees are eligible to work in the United States.

In addition, the law penalizes people who transport or harbor illegal immigrants.

Speaking at the recent Southeast Region Fruit and Vegetable Conference held in Savannah, Ga., Commissioner Black said the federal government had failed in its responsibility to find a remedy for farm labor problems.

(Other surveys have confirmed to loss of farm labor in Georgia. For that report go to http://southeastfarmpress.com/management/studies-surveys-confirm-georgia-farm-labor-losses).

“The results of our survey continue to make clear that the solution to labor issues facing Georgia producers rests in the hands of the federal government,” said Black. 

“Agriculture is our state’s No. 1 industry, yet the federal government is failing to provide our farmers with the skilled labor they need to harvest crops in a legal and efficient manner. It is time our friends in Washington step up to the plate and provide us with a system that works.”