6:07 PM, Jun 1, 2011 | comments
Migrant workers pick cucumbers in Sumter County
ATLANTA, Ga — Farmers throughout Georgia are complaining that a worker shortage has put their crops at risk, a result, they say, of Georgia’s new immigration law.
Governor Nathan Deal is aware of the situation, and has asked the Agriculture Commissioner to investigate.
In Sumter County, a crew of 30 migrant workers picks cucumbers from a field owned by Minor Brothers Farms. Grower Dick Minor says the same crew had 45 or 50 workers last year.
Migrant worker Angelo Ybarra said many of the people who worked beside him last season are now avoiding Georgia.
“Immigration laws, that’s why they’re not coming back,” said Ybarra. “Mostly they’re going back to Mexico.
Georgia’s new get tough immigration law doesn’t go into effect for another month, but Minor is afraid his worker shortage will be 50 or more by the end of the growing season. He fears it will result in crops left in the field.
“We’re just at the beginning of our season,” said Minor, who grows cucumbers, beans, and watermelon. “If we get I the middle of June we’ll have more fields coming on, and it will be virtually impossible to keep up with the harvest unless we get some more labor.”
Minor said his workers provide documentation of legal status to the Department of Labor before they hit the fields. Still, he claims immigrants with that documentation are going to work in other states.
“We think it’s the perception of the bill,” said Minor. “The perception of being harassed, of being checked out by every law enforcement officer in the state, everywhere they go.”
Governor Nathan Deal, who campaigned on immigration reform and signed the immigration bill, is aware. He has written a letter asking Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black to “assess how this legislation is impacting agriculture operations.
“With this assessment, I hope to have a clearer picture of a reliable workforce for our farmers,” Governor Deal wrote.
“We have been asked by the Governor to assess the availability of labor for producers of fruits, vegetables and other commodities,” Black said in a statement. “We will report back to the Governor by June 10th on what we have found through our survey of farmers.
“Having a stable legal supply of labor is something agriculture needs,” said Black.
Minor said he’s tried to increase his workforce by hiring local people. He’s advertised with the Department of Labor, but so far has had no takers to work in the field.
“They’re not willing to take it,” said Miguel Tovar, who oversees the packing house at Minor Brothers Farms. “It’s too hot, and they say they’re not used to it.”
Meanwhile, there’s a waiting list of people who want jobs inside at the packing house. Employees there fear if fewer crops are making it from the field into the boxes, their jobs will be in jeopardy.
“I don’t know what I would do,” said Felicia Angry. “I’ve been working with them so long. We need these jobs.”
Dick Minor said it’s possible he and other farmers could lose as much as 30-percent of their crop if an answer to the labor shortage isn’t found.
“We’re a 1.1-billion dollar industry,” said Minor. “If we lose 30-percent of that, that’s a huge economic hit for our state.”