7/12 – ajc.com – Georgia farmers to seek study of losses tied to labor shortages | ajc.com

Georgia farmers to seek study of losses tied to labor shortages  | ajc.com.

 

Metro Atlanta / State News 2:15 p.m. Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia’s agricultural industry is preparing to commission a study of the financial losses it suffered this year as a result of severe labor shortages some fruit and vegetable growers have tied to the state’s new immigration enforcement law.

The study — to be due Oct. 1 — would help quantify the farmers’ losses, guide state lawmakers considering future immigration-related legislation and bolster efforts to create an improved national guest-worker program, said Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association.

Hall said his association is among several state agricultural groups that are seeking the report. The study will be conducted by John McKissick, former director of the Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development at the University of Georgia. Hall and McKissick said they are still working out the details, but both indicated the study will help quantify the direct and indirect economic impacts of the labor shortages for farmers and Georgia communities.

Many farmers have complained that Georgia’s tough new law targeting illegal immigration has scared away the migrant Hispanic workers they depend on to pick their fruits and vegetables.

A federal judge put some of the most controversial parts of the law on hold last month after civil and immigrant rights groups challenged the measure’s constitutionality in court. But most of the law was left intact, including a provision that penalizes people who use fake identification to get jobs in Georgia.

In May, Hall estimated farm labor shortages could put as much as $300 million in crops at risk this year. A state survey of farmers released last month showed they had 11,080 jobs open.

The results of McKissick’s study will be transmitted to Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, Hall said. The new law — much of which went into effect July 1 — calls for Black to study whether Georgia can legally create its own guest-worker program.

There is sharp disagreement, however, over whether states can do that. Critics say only the federal government has that power. Meanwhile, farmers complain the federal government’s existing guest-worker program — called H-2A — is costly, cumbersome and plagued with delays. It allows noncitizens to temporarily work in the United States.

“If we are going to produce food in this country, we have got to have a usable guest-worker program,” Hall said.

The new law, called House Bill 87, also requires Black’s department to study immigration’s impact on the state’s agricultural industry and “the need for reform” of the federal H-2A program. Black’s report is due to Gov. Nathan Deal and state lawmakers by Jan. 1.

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