WASHINGTON, D.C. — If Congressional lawmakers wonder if there are potential ill effects of mandatory E-Verify legislation on fresh produce growers, they have a “poster child” in Georgia.
At the United Fresh Washington Public Policy Conference on Oct. 4, Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Association, showed preliminary highlights of a University of Georgia study tallying the economic damage from the state’s immigration law.
According to the survey, mandatory E-Verify laws won’t reduce U.S. unemployment.
“In agriculture, that won’t happen,” Hall said.
Hall said Georgia’s state immigration enforcement law had an immediate impact on growers, despite the fact that agricultural employers were given a two-year phase-in for use of mandatory E-Verify.
On May 17, four days after the governor signed the legislation, he said growers informed him that some harvesters were not coming to Georgia because they were afraid of the new law.
A poll of growers by the association in late May estimated up to 50% shortages of harvest help.
Hall said the governor, pushed by media reports of labor shortages in Georgia fields, commissioned a study about the labor situation in Georgia. He also unsuccessfully encouraged unemployed Georgians to apply and began an ill-fated pilot study that used prisoners to work in the fields, Hall said.
The thrust of the law, which took effect July 1, was to provide jobs to the unemployed in the state, but Hall said the law has had the opposite effect.
An economic impact study by the University of Georgia looked at responses from growers who accounted for 46% of the state’s total fruit and vegetable acreage of 67,513 acres. Labor shortages were noted on farms representing 80% of the acreage of those growers responding to the survey, Hall said.
The university study estimated labor-related losses of $75 million dollars to growers who responded.
The University of Georgia survey said growers responding to the survey reported a need for 12,390 workers this year but were only able to find 7,600, resulting in a labor shortage of 5,244 workers. Based on the 46% growers who responded to the survey, the University of Georgia study revealed indirect loss to the state’s communities was $106.5 million.
Losses to growers combined with losses to communities equaled $181 million, which would translate to about 1,512 jobs, Hall said. If the losses are adjusted to reflect the entire grower population, the total adverse economic impact from the law is near $400 million, the survey found.
The effect of the law - and the labor shortage - on future crop prospects also was revealed by the survey. About seven out of 10 growers responded to a question asking how the 2011 labor shortage would affect planting in 2012.
For vegetable growers who responded, 53% said they would be decreasing their acreage in 2012, with most expecting declines of 25% to 50%. The survey found 45% of the growers said they would maintain their current acreage next year and 2% said they would increase their acreage.
Conducted by the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, the full report was expected to be released by Oct. 8. Along with the LaGrange, Ga.-based Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Association, other groups that assisted with funding the study included the Georgia Farm Bureau, Georgia Peach Council, Georgia Watermelon Association, Georgia Blueberry Growers Association and the Vidalia Onion Business Council.