6/7 – ajc.com – Survey: Nearly half of Georgia farmers report labor shortages | ajc.com

Survey: Nearly half of Georgia farmers report labor shortages  | ajc.com.

 

Metro Atlanta / State News 1:04 p.m. Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Nearly half of the 132 Georgia businesses polled in a private survey this month say they are experiencing agricultural labor shortages.

Gary Paulk of Paulk Farm in Irwin County says he is facing a shortage of workers to help with the harvest at his 60-acre blackberry farm.

Vino Wong, vwong@ajc.com Gary Paulk of Paulk Farm in Irwin County says he is facing a shortage of workers to help with the harvest at his 60-acre blackberry farm.

Ismael Rodriguez, 25, was harvesting blackberries in the mid-90s temperature at Paulk Farm in Irwin County last week.

Vino Wong, vwong@ajc.com Ismael Rodriguez, 25, was harvesting blackberries in the mid-90s temperature at Paulk Farm in Irwin County last week.

And of those who reported shortages to the Georgia Agribusiness Council, more than a third said immigrants are concerned about the state’s new anti-illegal immigration law.

The council started doing the survey after farmers complained the new law is scaring migrant farmworkers away from Georgia and putting hundreds of millions of dollars in crops at risk. The council – which lobbied against the measure in the state Legislature — started surveying farmers, landscape companies and other related businesses last week and released the results Tuesday.

The state Agriculture Department is conducting a similar study and is expected to report its findings to Gov. Nathan Deal by Friday.

The council released its survey results a day after Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said his agency was still measuring the extent of the state’s farm labor shortages and that it was too early to call the problem a “crisis.” The Republican commissioner said his agency has dispatched representatives to meet with farmers in South Georgia and ask them how the Labor Department could help fill any open jobs.

Asked about the impact of the state’s new immigration enforcement law, Butler said a combination of factors could be to blame for the labor shortages, including the types of jobs farmers have open and what they pay.

“One season is not enough to pass judgment,” Butler predicted. “Maybe we do have some farmers that are having a hard time hiring right now, but next year they may not because… once they have to get used to hiring legal workers maybe they will be there.”

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