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Monday, April 18, 2011 - 9:47am

State To Study Farm Workers

Georgia's Vidalia onions ship out Monday and with them comes an aggressive new ad campaign. That may help prevent a boycott of Georgia’s farm goods.

State Agricultural Commissioner Gary Black says a billboard in New York City's Times Square is advertising Georgia’s vidalias.

Civil rights groups have called for a national boycott of Georgia agriculture in protest of the state's new crackdown on illegal immigrants, many of whom work on Georgia farms.

Black says the ad campaign is not a response to talk of a boycott, but he hopes a strong marketing campaign will help any bad publicity.

"I think Georgia commodities and their quality and the family farmers that produce them speak for themselves, so we look forward to being very aggressive as we always are in promoting what’s good about Georgia and we believe the consumers of this country and the world will respond in a positive fashion."

Governor Nathan Deal has said he would sign the bill that would empower police to check the citizenship status of people pulled over for traffic violations.

It also would require most businesses use a federal database to check the legal status of new hires.

Farmers and small businesses worry it would run off their labor force and they say they don’t want to be burdened with another regulation

Another requirement of the measure is a report from the state's agricultural agency to study the hiring of agricultural workers.

Black says the study will highlight obstacles farmers face with the federal H2 Visa program for seasonal workers.

He points to the recent experience of Vidalia onion farmer:

"I was on the phone last Friday with one of my producer friends in Statesboro last Tuesday. [He] had H2 workers lined up but they were caught in a pipeline, a bottleneck with homeland security."

Black says Georgia could consider crafting its own program for hiring temporary workers.