Georgia’s new law cracking down on undocumented migrant workers in the state caused eight of 10 growers of perishable fresh fruit and vegetable crops to see labor shortages this spring, a Georgia Department of Agriculture survey found.
An analysis of the survey by the University of Georgia put overall losses to the agricultural industry at more than $180 million and concluded Georgia farmers had 11,000 fewer workers than needed to harvest and pack the spring crops.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal ordered the survey and analysis after an exodus of Hispanic migrant farm workers that occurred as the July 1 enforcement date of the anti-immigration law approached.
The lost production brought the loss of more than 1,500 jobs to the agriculture sectors in a state with one of the highest jobless rates in the nation, the analysis determined.
Survey respondents represented growers who farm 48 percent of the state’s agricultural land.
“It is apparent that a significant number of Georgia’s spring berry and vegetable producers experienced labor shortages in the spring of 2011,” said the analysis by John C. McKissick and Sharon P. Kane, professors at the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development.
The analysis put the known losses from harvesting and packing shortages at $75 million, $41.9 million for vegetables and $33.1 million for berries. If the survey respondents are representative of non-respondents, the total loss attributed to labor in the seven crops would be about $140 million based on loss per acre per crop, the analysis found.
Losses incurred by suppliers and other auxiliary industries were equally as large. “Results indicated that on an annual basis the $41.9 million in lost vegetable production due to labor shortages resulted in another $56.1 million dollars lost in other goods and services in Georgia’s economy for a total economic impact of about $98 million,” McKissick and Kane said.
“The total of $33.1 million in berry production lost due to inadequate labor resulted in another $50.4 million for a total impact of $83.5 million.”
The combined loss in goods and services: More than $181 million.
“The total impact resulting from the labor related lost production as reported from the survey respondents would be the loss of 1,512 full time jobs in Georgia per year,” McKissick and Kane said.
The lesson learned from this spring’s losses is to cut back on production in 2012, the survey found. While most respondents to the question indicated they would try to maintain production, a significant number of vegetable producers planned cuts, according to the survey.
Yearly planted annual crops such as vegetables can more easily be altered than can perennial, multi-year crops such as those produced from berry bushes. “However, even berry producers indicated planned changes in production and harvest/packing methods if the labor experience of 2011 is likely repeated in 2012,” the professors said.