More evidence of severe farm labor shortage in wake of signing of strict immigration bill

A couple of days ago I wrote a post titled “Early signs of trouble for harvests in wake of Georgia’s stringent new immigration law”.

That post cited an AJC article with credible claims of severe labor shortages at farms that rely on migrant labor.

The AJC followed up a couple of days ago with “Governor asks state to probe farm labor shortages”, which provides more evidence of the problem:

Bill Brim said between 75 and 100 Hispanic workers he depends on didn’t show up for work this year at his 4,500-acre farm in Tifton, causing him to lose some of his vegetable harvests. Now Brim, who raises cucumbers, eggplant, squash tomatoes, watermelon and other fruits and vegetables, is considering cutting back on production and building more houses to shelter laborers he could get through a federal guest-worker program he already participates in.

“We have to pick and choose what we pick,” said Brim, a board member and past president of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association. “We have to skip over fields, not just because of labor but because of dry weather, too.”

[Governor] Deal wrote Thursday in a letter to [Agriculture Commissioner Gary] Black that “many farmers have raised concerns about the availability of an adequate, stable workforce for Georgia’s production agricultural industry.”

“Knowing the strong demand for farm labor will continue through the summer months, I request that you assess how this legislation is impacting agricultural operations,” he wrote in the letter, according to a copy obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

While it might be a little surprising that this labor shortage is manifesting itself before the law even takes effect on July 1st, there’ no surprise about the shortage itself. Georgia farmers rely heavily on temporary Latino laborers, and those workers — apparently even many who are in the country legally — are steering clear of the state in significant numbers.

Agriculture represents a very small percentage of the state’s GDP, but we can’t really afford for any sector to take a nosedive at this point in a weak recovery. Rural Georgia was especially hard hit during the recession, and this will certainly contribute to the economic damage in some areas. And it would obviously be silly to assume that a significant number of unemployed rural Georgians are physically capable of the difficult work of harvesting crops.

It’s going to be interesting to see if state leaders find any credible way to address this problem. I sure can’t think of anything.