Georgia Farm Labor Problem Continues

Georgia farms are still reeling in the wake of the state’s tough new immigration bill. Passed last month, Georgia’s new immigration law is one of the toughest in the country, providing stiff punishments for employees who hire illegal immigrants and allowing law enforcement to verify the legal residency of suspects they encounter.

Earlier in the month, an informal survey of Georgia farms, directed by Governor Nathan Deal, revealed over 11,000 farm labor vacancies, most caused by the departure of farm laborers, both illegal and legal, in response to the new immigration bill. The worker’s flight has so far cost Georgia farms over $300 million in lost revenues and could reach over $1 billion if the loss of labor is not stopped. The President of the Georgia Agribusiness Council warned that without the necessary labor, crops will rot in the fields and loss of revenue will spiral out of control, costing everyone in the state.

Earlier in the month, Governor Deal proposed a new system of farm labor, relying in prison probationers and Georgia convicts to fill the 11,000 new farm vacancies. Officials were optimistic that the state’s 100,000 probationers, many of whom have difficulty finding work, would leap at the opportunity. However, the results of this new system have been poor so far. Dick Minor, the President of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association and owner of a Georgia farm, reports that many probationers quit after a single day of work, with many leaving after thirty minutes. Those that stayed were not as efficient as many of the Mexican and Guatemalan workers Minor typically employs.

With as much as two-thirds of probationer labor not returning to work, many farmers are pessimistic about the future of this program. Without dependable farm labor, farms cannot function. In addition, some Georgia officials, like former Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin, have pointed out the distasteful historical implications of using convicts for manual labor.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer