Hall said the department of agriculture study estimates $10 million in losses for growers who responded to the survey. However, Hall said the state department of agriculture survey included fewer produce growers than the University of Georgia study last fall.
Hall said he hopes the report could spur Georgia’s Congressional delegation to advocate for a reformed agricultural guest worker program. “We’re going to see problems long term if corrections aren’t made.”
However, he is concerned the election year may make progress on reform of the agricultural guest worker program out of reach.
“Hopefully we can get something done this year.”
Bruce Goldstein, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Farmworker Justice, said Jan. 4 that the report did not seek out the opinions of agricultural workers in Georgia.
“That concerns us,” Goldstein said.
Hall said there has been no discussion of changes to the state’s immigration law, House Bill 87, which has a mandatory E-verify provision that kicked in Jan. 1 for employers with 500 workers or more. The same provision for companies with 250 employees starts Jan.1, 2013. In July 2013, the law will go into effect for employers or more 10 workers.
Hall said it is too early to determine if growers will cut back acreage this year because of concerns about worker availability. However, he said some growers have been talking about growing field corn or cotton rather than vegetables. There has been some reduction in Vidalia onion acreage, in part related to pricing last year and perhaps some measure of concern about labor availability.
The state’s report said reforming the “archaic” H-2A program must be a near-term priority for federal officials. The report also suggests that the state improve and expand education and outreach to growers about state and federal labor recruitment programs.
“This study found that over 20% of respondents were unfamiliar with H-2A for hiring workers,” according to the report. A third recommendation said that more research is needed to track Georgia farm employment patters, crop production cycles, labor needs by commodity and worker concerns.