Agriculture groups are launching a study of this spring’s labor shortage. They say the state’s new immigration law may have scared off migrant workers. The groups want to know the impact a smaller workforce had on harvest size.
The University of Georgia will conduct the survey for the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association and other groups.
UGA will poll farmers about how many acres they harvested and how many workers they employed, compared with previous years.
The association’s Charles Hall says the survey will look at "what [farmers] were expecting as far as harvest size, volume and value, and what they actually experienced this year, with regard to crops, and if they did indeed leave crops in the field or if there were crops that were not able to be harvested.”
He says the survey will also gauge if local shops suffered when, for example, a blueberry farmer hired fewer people.
“If they had 50 less workers than they would normally have, what is the economic impact that we had 50 less people in the community for those six weeks when blueberries would be picked who were not buying groceries, who were not buying gas, and were not involved in any kind of trade in the community?”
Farmers say migrant workers left after Gov. Nathan Deal signed the new immigration law in May, and without them, they couldn’t fill many farm jobs. The state department of labor estimated that there were 11,000 unfilled farm jobs at one point this spring.
A federal judge blocked part of the law, citing constitutional questions. But other provisions, including one requiring businesses to check workers’ immigration status, went into effect on July 1.
The Georgia Agribusiness Council has estimated the total loss stemming from spoiled and unpicked produce could be close to $1 billion. That includes about $300 million for the actual value of the crops. The economic impact increases as crops are processed and packaged.
Officials have said they are worried there will also be a shortage of labor to pick and process the state's largest and most profitable crops, cotton and peanuts.