What is in this article?:
- Farm labor laws crippling Carolina fruit, vegetable operations
- Being challenged in court
- Bill would overhaul H-2A program
• Tull Hill Farms is a model for how H-2A labor should work.
• Workers at the farm have heated, air-conditioned living quarters, complete with Dish Network TV.
• Their travel costs to and from their home country are paid and they are guaranteed at least minimum wage.
KENDALL HILL says labor a shortage is a major threat to vegetable producers in North Carolina.
Being challenged in court
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed the bill May 13, but, like Alabama’s HB56, it’s being challenged in federal court.
In South Carolina, the state legislature passed S20, again similar to migrant labor laws passed in Alabama and Georgia. The bill was signed into law by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley at the end of June.
The South Carolina law requires law enforcement to check the immigration status of someone who had been arrested for an unrelated reason, if the officer suspects the person is in the country illegally.
South Carolina’s law, effective in January, is similar to Georgia’s but requires the creation of a specialized police unit to monitor illegal aliens.
In South Carolina the Hispanic population increased 148 percent in the past 10 years, according to the U.S. Census. Hispanics now make up 5.1 percent of South Carolina’s population and are mostly of Mexican origin.
Though laws in North Carolina and Virginia stop well short of such Draconian measures, they don’t do anything to help alleviate the farm labor shortage and they don’t offer any assistance for migrant workers to avoid being detained, jailed and deported by simply passing through states with harsher migrant labor laws.
Perhaps the ultimate loser in what has become a legalized shut-down of migrant farm labor is the American public. At best, new labor laws, even revamped H-2A laws are going to create more paper work and more care in hiring and housing farm labor — all of which is going to cost farmers more money and ultimately raise the price of fruits and vegetables grown in the Southeast.
A characteristic of fruit and vegetable crops is that it takes a relatively few people to plant a crop, or to manage an existing fruit orchard, but it takes large numbers of seasonal labor to harvest these crops.
Knowing how much of which crop to produce is an ongoing challenge for farmers, but nothing compared to figuring out what to do with an excess of a crop, if labor is not available to harvest it.
“We’re looking for alternative sources for our peaches, even for use as biofuels, because we don’t have the labor to pick the crop or to run our packing house,” says one South Carolina peach grower. He doesn’t want his name used because he fears it will bring down investigations of his farming operation and his use of migrant labor.
The vegetable industry in the Palmetto State is equally challenged. One Charleston County, vegetable grower says he ended up burning 25 percent of his 80-acre tomato crop, because he had no labor to hand-pick the crop.
"I could have used 300 pickers. I had 40. I burned 25 percent of my tomato crop. These people don't cause any trouble. They just come here to work," he says. Like the South Carolina peach grower, the Charleston County vegetable grower fears reprisals and is hesitant to say ‘too much’ about the labor situation in his state.
Federal lawmakers are making efforts to correct some of the harsher elements of these state laws, but with grudging, if any, support from the states.