An agriculture industry group estimates a shortage of migrant labor may wind up costing Georgia fruit and vegetable farmers $300 million in crop losses. Officials worry the total economic impact will be even greater if crops from the next harvest are lost.
The Georgia Agribusiness Council estimates the total loss stemming from spoiled and unpicked produce to be close to $1 billion.
And that doesn’t include other crops such as pecans and cotton that will be harvested next.
Farmers have had to leave crops in the field due to a labor shortage they say stems from the state’s new immigration crackdown. Council president Bryan Tolar even if crops get picked, there may not be enough workers to process them.
“With our peanuts and our cotton and certainly our pecan crops, these are all big, high-dollar value products," he said. "We can get them harvested but can we get them further processed so they are ready to go to the textile mills and ready to go to the food processors? That’s the question that hasn’t been answered yet.”
Tolar says the exodus of documented and undocumented workers have left the state’s farms with 30 percent fewer workers on average.
Portions of the new immigration law take effect July 1. It will allow police and some employers to conduct more thorough immigration checks.
Supporters of the state's new immigration law say it will save Georgia taxpayers billions of dollars in education and healthcare expenditures for illegal immigrants. And they say they are specifically targeting the mechanism that attracts and keeps illegal immigrants here: employment.
Tolar, and many of Georgia's elected officials believe the key to fixing the labor shortage is reforming the federal H2-A foreign guestworker program. Tolar, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black and others have traveled to Washington, D.C. to press Georgia's Congressional delegation on the issue.