Numerous surveys and studies conducted in Georgia have revealed farm labor shortages and negative economic impacts since the passage this year of a tough new immigration law in the state.

Though none of the findings mention the law specifically, many farmers have complained that House Bill 87 has frightened away immigrant workers, resulting in some crops rotting in the field.

Georgia’s Republican-controlled General Assembly passed the law in the spring of 2011. Among other things, it 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.

Other states, including Alabama and Arizona, have passed similar laws.

Shortly after the legislation was signed into law by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a survey conducted by Georgia Farm Bureau showed that farmers had 11,080 jobs open and waiting to be filled.

Another survey conducted this past summer by the Georgia Agribusiness Council (GAC) revealed that 46 percent of those responding were, at the time, experiencing a labor shortage. More than 130 employers from 61 counties across the state participated in the survey, representing different sectors of the agricultural industry, including crop, livestock, greenhouse, landscape and many ag input suppliers.

Of those who had jobs needing to be filled, 24 percent said that fewer workers were applying for the available jobs than in past years, 8.7 percent said that local law enforcement has increased enforcement action towards immigrants, 30.4 percent said the physical demand of the jobs were too difficult for those who seem interested, and 37 percent said that immigrants were concerned with Georgia’s new immigration reform law.

Farmers and representatives of farm groups in Georgia have been especially critical of the provision in the law that requires many of them to use the federal E-Verify program. Legislation is pending in Congress to mandate E-Verify nationwide.

At the same time, farmers say the federal guest-worker programs that are designed to help them temporarily employ foreign workers are cumbersome and costly.

“Georgia is the poster child for what can happen when mandatory E-Verify and enforcement legislation is passed without an adequate guest-worker program,” says Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association.

Hall says that while most of the “mandatory E-Verify” legislation is promoted as a jobs creation bill, that’s not necessarily the case with agriculture.