ATLANTA, GA (WABE) – Nearly half of Georgia’s farm employers surveyed by an industry group are experiencing farm worker shortages. Friday, the state agriculture commissioner is due to report the findings of his own survey to the governor.
Last summer the United Farm Workers launched their nationwide “Take Our Jobs Campaign,” to connect legal residents to farm employers. Thousands of inquiries only led to a dozen people taking farm worker jobs. Comedian Stephen Colbert was one of them.
“This brief experience gave me some small understanding on why so few Americans are clamoring to begin an exciting career as seasonal migrant field worker.”
The work is physically demanding, and doesn’t pay well for the nature of the work. Since, Governor Nathan Deal enacted an immigration law last month, many farm employers are experiencing labor shortages. Deal says he’s asked the state’s Agricultural Commissioner to look into the nature of these shortages.
“What are the numbers of individuals that are needed? What kind of work are they needed for? What is the duration of the period that they’re needed for?”
The governor says he hasn’t seen federal statistics on this issue. But several states have done extensive recruitment efforts when they’ve had farm worker shortages of their own. Craig Regelbrugge with the national group, Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform describes one of the most extensive campaigns. It was tried in California in the late 1990’s, when there was double digit unemployment in the region.
“There was a huge multi-county effort, again involving agencies and grower associations and what not, which was documented as successfully recruiting and placing a total of three workers.”
Farmers here are trying to fill their labor gap with local workers. Jason Berry is a manager with Blueberry Farms of Georgia in Baxley, which is two hours south of Macon. He says his current workforce is 90, much less than half of what he had last year at this time. Berry hired about two dozen unemployed local workers, and a few of them, he says, didn’t really work.
“They were basically standing out there picking, I think, 0.2 or 0.3 buckets an hour right besides people that were picking 5 and 6 buckets an hour. We had to let those people go, but by and large the rest of them quit.”
Out of the Georgians hired, Berry says, maybe two have stayed. And they are not working the fields.