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Tuesday, January 3, 2012 - 1:36pm

Ag. Commissioner Wants Reform in Washington

A report, released by the Georgia Department of Agriculture Tuesday confirms that some Georgia farmers lacked enough workers last spring, and sustained crop losses as a result. Officials say the state’s new immigration law played a role but they’re looking to Washington for the solution.

Agriculture officials surveyed 800 farmers under a provision in the immigration law. Farmers said migrant workers began leaving last spring.

Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black said the report found that farmers had about $10 million in direct crop losses because of the law.

He said making a federal guest worker program, known as H2A, easier to use is the solution to Georgia’s farm worker shortage.

“We must get a solution-oriented proposal before the Congress. The Congress must fix this program and I suggest to you, must fix it in 2012,” said Black.

Some agriculture experts doubt legislation reforming the H2A program will pass this year.

Bryan Tolar heads the Georgia Agribusiness Council.

“I think if you look at the action of Congress over the last year, the idea of them getting anything accomplished is kind of far-fetched,” Tolar said after the meeting Tuesday.

The University of Georgia released a report last year placing the economic impact of 2011 crop losses at around $70 million. Black said the weather and other factors contributed to those numbers.

The state floated plans to start its own guest worker program but Black nixed the idea Tuesday because federal law doesn’t permit it.

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