A Georgia blueberry producer, along with the state’s commissioner of agriculture, was among those testifying before the U.S. Senate in October about immigration enforcement and farm labor.

The hearing, billed as a discussion of “America’s Agriculture Labor Crisis: Enacting a Practical Solution,” was called by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security.

A farm labor shortage was reported in Georgia this year after the state’s legislature passed a new law cracking down on illegal immigration. This shortage, said Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black, shows the need for a new or expanded guest worker program for migrant workers.

Black told senators he was open to any number of proposals to deal with the problem, as long as there is a strong guest-worker program in place.

Unusually high heat and a lack of rain caused an unexpected rush in Georgia harvests this year, said Black, and that may have contributed to labor shortages. But E-Verify — which is required of some employers by the new Georgia law — is a “real problem without fixing a guest-worker program,” said the commissioner.

Black testified that an informal survey showed that farmers of onions, watermelons and other handpicked crops lacked more than 11,000 workers during the 2011 spring and summer harvest.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., whose state also passed a law with E-Verify requirements, said during the hearing that he would prefer letting guest workers stay in the United States for less than a year without their families to do seasonal farm jobs.

Connie Horner, a blueberry farmer from Homerville in south Georgia told the subcommittee members that she needed their help to do the right thing, and that she needed legal, experienced, seasonal workers to maintain her farm and harvest food that “helps feed Americans.”

“I want to hire legal workers. Yet, the hiring process must be cost-effective and — most important — simple. In short, I need your help to make it easier to do what’s right,” said Horner, who manages a family-owned blueberry farm.

There are approximately 2,000 U.S. farmers in 20 states growing 500 to 600 million pounds of cultivated blueberries annually, with a wholesale value of about $1.5 billion, she said.

“In Georgia, I am one of about 350 growers who produce blueberries with a total farm gate value of $120 million to $140 million annually. We are by any measure a small family farm. Yet, the challenges we face are shared by farms small and large across Georgia and the nation.”

Horner noted that Georgia had been pushed into the national spotlight when a new state law “quickly resulted in a farm labor disaster.”