TY TY, GA (WALB) – South Georgia produce farmers are speaking out against Georgia’s new immigration law.
It doesn’t officially take effect until next month, but it’s already causing a farm worker shortage that could cost the state tens of millions of dollars.
Farmers say migrant workers they depend on, even those in the country legally, are avoiding Georgia.
At Docia Farms in Ty Ty, a high dollar operation is underway for the next 8 weeks. One cantaloupe at a time, 2 million sweet melons will cross a conveyor belt en route to grocery stores across the country. But this operation, and others like it, could soon be no more.
“I could lose $50,000 to $60,000 a day if I don’t get stuff out. I’m just one of a lot of farmers around,” said Phillip Grimes.
Grimes has until July to get the cantaloupes out of the ground and off for sale. Help, however, is short, very short.
“In this heat that we got , if you don’t pick them everyday you lose them. And with this shortage of labor we may could lose some of them very easily,” Grimes said.
When Georgia lawmakers passed the new immigration law this year, farmers say migrant workers left the state. The exodus, some say, is crippling the produce industry.
“And even next year what are we going to do? Do we need to go grow produce? If we can’t get no body to pick it, we can’t grow it,” said Grimes.
Just a few miles down the road from Docia Farms, Ronald Barksdale’s small farming operation has hit a snag.
“We’ve already by passed acres that we couldn’t harvest,” he said.
Barksdale has been growing produce in Tift County since the sixties. Decades spent in the fields, he’s never seen the migrant labor force this hard up. And it’s costing him tens of thousands of dollars.
“We’ve bypassed pickles and cucumbers. We’ve got cabbage that we couldn’t get cut. It’s hurting,” he said.
What he and other farmers want people to know is that is if their crop production isn’t fully harvested, or they decided to not replant crops next year, the hurt will be felt by the consumer.
“Somewhere down the line it’s going to hit the consumer,” said Barksdale.
Now he and other farmers may turn to less labor intensive farming like cotton and corn.
It’s the same story for Ricky Tawzer of Sweet Dixie Melon. His watermelon fields are ripe for the picking, but he’s short about forty workers.
He said, “I get people calling me everyday. Other farmers hunting help. They’re short, you know?”
While everyone he employs is documented, Tawzer admits even some migrant workers here legally are leaving the state.
“They’re just worried because of the bill that was passed. They’re bypassing Georgia and going to other states,” he said.
With Georgia’s produce – crops like watermelons, cantaloupes, tomatoes, and onions – bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars annually – a cease in production could in turn cost the state millions.
“We’ve got a million dollar crop out there and everyday that we don’t gather, it could add up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Tawzer
But what was enacted as one of the country’s toughest immigration laws, farmers agree some changes must be made, and soon.
“We need some kind of guest worker program that works for the small grower,” said Grimes.
“I’m taking a gamble in producing and selling them. But it’s another thing to not even get them harvested. It’s a risk I can’t take,” Barksdale said.
The farmers say despite the high unemployment rate, they can’t find enough local workers to do the job.
The Governor and State Ag Commissioner are asking farmers to fill out an online survey as they try to assess the extent of the worker shortage.