Moultrie Observer

Breaking News

Agriculture

January 20, 2012

After immigration crackdown, farmers mull planting

ATLANTA — It’s unclear whether farmers in Georgia and Alabama will face a shortage of workers due to tough new laws targeting illegal immigration, but some producers said they have begun changing their plans for planting and harvesting this year’s crops.

Some farmers said they might reduce the number of acres they plant or shift to less labor-intensive crops, while others are bracing for higher labor prices and have turned to new recruiting tools to attract workers.

“We’re expecting some shifts, but it’s a bit too early to tell,” said Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association.

Locally, the Colquitt County Extension Service has seen little change in fall planting. Click here to read that story.

Georgia and Alabama have approved laws that have tough enforcement provisions that farmers say are scaring migrant workers away from the states.

Since the laws were approved last year, farmers in both states have reported labor shortages because migrant workers aren’t showing up and they say they can’t find other workers to fill the jobs. Farmers and state officials have said that some produce was left to rot in the field last year because there weren’t enough workers to help with the harvest.

Farmers have claimed not enough U.S. citizens want the jobs, but some said the issue is actually that producers won’t offer a high enough wage to attract legal workers.

Brett Hall, Alabama’s deputy agriculture commissioner, said nurseries across south Alabama are trying to find workers to fill about 2,000 jobs ahead of the spring growing season. Many nursery growers are staffing job fairs in hopes of attracting employees, he said.

Other growers aren’t ordering seeds or new equipment because they anticipate a labor shortage, he said.

“Before this law, migrant workers would just show up. They knew when they were needed,” Hall said. “That’s not happening anymore.”

In Georgia, some growers of the state’s famed Vidalia onions are planting fewer acres of the labor-intensive crop, which could lead to a roughly 10 percent drop in production, said Bob Stafford, director of the Vidalia Onion Business Council.

Stafford said it’s unclear if the smaller crop will mean consumers will pay more for the prized sweet onions because prices are dependent on many factors, including the weather and fuel costs.

Aries Haygood, chairman of the Vidalia Onion Committee, said he has reduced planting by about 15 percent at his farm near Lyons, Ga., because of labor concerns and other factors.

Haygood and some other farmers in both states are using a federal guest worker program, known as H-2A, which lets farmers bring in an unlimited number of temporary agriculture workers.

But some complain it’s too expensive and doesn’t allow enough flexibility.

Haygood said it’s also tough to get the timing just right and sometimes his workers’ visas run out before the end of the harvest.

Some members of Georgia’s congressional delegation have proposed changes to the H-2A program, notably allowing farmers to provide workers with vouchers to obtain housing nearby rather than being required to provide on-site housing.

Dawson Morton, a lawyer with the Georgia Legal Services Program, dismissed complaints about the guest worker program, arguing the real issue is farmers don’t want to pay a legal wage or provide basic housing.

“The H-2A conditions are hardly extravagant,” Morton said. “They’re so modest that most Americans aren’t willing to accept them.”

Morton noted that a report by Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black showed that some farmers believe legal workers are more expensive and won’t work as hard.

“Gary Black’s report shows that there is an attempt by agriculture to shape policy to get themselves as cheap a labor force as possible,” Morton said. “This doesn’t look like an industry that’s interested in complying with the law or that’s interested in paying a legal wage.”

Two of the biggest Vidalia farmers, Delbert Bland and R.T. Stanley, said they don’t plan to reduce their crops.

Bland has used the federal guest worker program for years, and Stanley said he would likely request a crew of guest workers to supplement his other workers during the height of the harvest.

“I’m getting them planted all right,” Stanley said. “But when it gets to be time to harvest them in April or May, I’m concerned.”

Rather than reducing acreage, Kent Hamilton, who has vegetable farms near Tifton, Ga., plans to increase his sweet corn, cucumber and bell pepper crops by 15 percent because he thinks other growers will plant less.

Hamilton has used the federal guest worker program for years. He generally brings in about 400 temporary foreign workers but is building more housing to accommodate 515 this year.

Darvin Eason farms blackberries, cotton and peanuts in Lenox, deep in south Georgia.

Cotton and peanuts can be harvested mechanically, but blackberries must be picked by hand, requiring a lot of workers for a period of several weeks.

“If you don’t pick them every day, you lose some. They start to fall on the ground,” he said.

A relatively small-scale farmer, Eason’s 4 acres of bushes produce about 50,000 pounds of berries a year. But having made a hefty investment in the bushes, he can’t easily reduce his harvest this year. His labor contractor has already told him he’ll likely have to pay higher wages this year because it’s going to be tougher to find workers.

1
Text Only
Agriculture
  • Growing Georgia, April 2014

    April 17, 2014

  • 0415 Davis.jpeg Ga. Farm Bureau honors Lakyn Davis

    Georgia Farm Bureau honored Colquitt County FFA member Lakyn Davis, her parents and Colquitt County FFA advisers Matt Howell, Stacey Beacham and Shawn Collins during a dinner the organization hosted on March 28 at the GFB state office for the eight students who won grand champion awards at the 2013 State 4-H & FFA Market Goat and Lamb Show and the 2014 Georgia Junior National Livestock Show.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Winning essay can score an ABAC scholarship

    The winner of a soil stewardship essay contest will take home $75 and a one-year scholarship to Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College.

    April 12, 2014

  • Kichler, Jeremy.jpg Extension agent answers your questions

    As a new county Extension agent, starting in Colquitt County on March 1st I have gotten a lot of questions.  Let’s discuss some of the more common ones that I have gotten over the last week.

    April 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • 0410 Ag profile.jpg UGA researcher focuses on soil moisture

    George Vellidis has been fascinated by agricultural engineering since he was a high school student in Thessaloniki, Greece. As a professor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in Tifton, Vellidis is living out his childhood passion every day.

    April 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • 0410 ag hill 2014.jpg Nursery landscape team sixth in state

    April 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • Farm disaster programs to begin sign-ups April 15

    U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Juan M. Garcia announced Monday that farmers and ranchers can sign-up for disaster assistance programs, reestablished and strengthened by the 2014 Farm Bill, beginning Tuesday, April 15.

    April 7, 2014

  • Growing Georgia, March 2014

    April 7, 2014

  • 0328 cotton picking.jpg Farm bill meetings to start April 4

    U.S. Farm Bill education will be the focus of an upcoming series of meetings coordinated by University of Georgia agricultural economists.

    March 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • plowing.JPG Rains have an impact

    March 26, 2014 1 Photo

Business Marquee
Facebook
AP Video
House Ads
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
More
weatherradar
Seasonal Content
Poll

Should abortion be legal for victims of rape?

No. That baby is alive, no matter how horrible its manner of conception.
Yes. It's wrong to force a woman to carry the child of her rapist.
Abortion is a private matter and should be legal for everyone.
     View Results