What is in this article?:
• Surveys and studies conducted since the passage of the Georgia labor law 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.
GEORGIA AGRICULTURE COMMISSIONER Gary Black explains the details of his department’s farm labor study at the recent Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference, held in Savannah, Ga.
Opportunity for communication
“The findings of this report also indicate there are opportunities for improved relations between the agriculture community and the Department of Labor for worker recruitment, while education and outreach will help provide better resources for growers,” he said.
Black noted that in 2011, Georgia’s U.S. senators and representatives offered proposed federal legislation addressing agriculture labor.
“We need senators and representatives from other states to join this effort in creating a solution to fix the problem. Our livelihoods are at stake.”
Georgians are concerned about where their food comes from, said Black.
“I challenge consumers to look at the produce available in local stores — you’ll always be able to find blueberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, peaches and the other products you desire — but where these products are grown and sold is directly linked to who is available to harvest them.”
The full report is available online at http://www.agr.georgia.gov/AgLaborReport.pdf. Highlights of the report include the following:
• Forty-eight percent of respondents found their part-time workforce to be roughly the same over the past five years, while 20 percent reported their workforce to be smaller.
• Twenty-one percent of respondents indicated that fewer full and part-time workers were hired in 2011 when compared to the last five years; major reasons included a poor economy, loss of revenue, poor worker retention and lack of available workers.
• It is unknown if the lack of full- and part-time workers in 2011 was a direct result of the passage of Georgia HB87, however, the study’s findings suggest this could be an issue and identifies a perception that the lack of workers could be related to the passage of HB87.
• The survey shows producers pay both full and part-time workers at, or above, federal minimum wage.
• In 2011, more than 50 percent of survey respondents who are producers of blueberries, cabbage, cantaloupe, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, squash, tobacco and watermelon reported income losses.
• More than 40 percent of respondents said H2A was not applicable to their farming operations; another 20 percent indicated they were unfamiliar with the program.
• Most respondents use word of mouth to recruit workers; approximately 13 percent use the Georgia Department of Labor and 3.4 percent reported using H-2A.