Ag report: $16 million in Vidalia onions, $29 million in blueberries lost to HB 87

My AJC colleague Jeremy Redmon has filed this:

Georgia’s economy is projected to shrink by $391 million and lose 3,260 jobs as a result of farm labor shortages this year, according to a report released Tuesday by the state’s agricultural industry.

Below is the preliminary release that his report is based on. It’s worth your time:

The Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association (GFVGA) released today preliminary findings from the economic impact study which the organization commissioned to analyze production data from the spring and summer harvest. Charles Hall, GFVGA Executive Director presented the preliminary data at the 2011 United Fresh Produce Association’s Washington Public Policy Conference where produce industry leaders from across the nation are assembled to lobby for reasonable immigration reform and discuss national E-verify legislation. Hall said, “Georgia is the poster child for what can happen when mandatory e-verify and enforcement legislation is passed without an adequate guest worker program.”

The report, conducted by The University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development and authored by Dr. John McKissick and Sharon Kane, will be released later this week. It analyzed data from seven crops that represented over 46.4% of the acreage available for harvest this spring. The seven crops studied represented a total farm gate value of more than $578 million in the 2009 UGA Farm Gate Survey.

Growers that said they had experienced labor losses in the spring/summer of 2011, represented over 80% of the production acreage reported in the survey. Based on the data submitted for each of the crops, the following losses were calculated as being directly attributable to harvest or packing labor shortages,

– Blueberries, $29,015,947

– Blackberries, $4,027,125

– Vidalia onions, $16,312,345

– Bell peppers, $15,115,645

– Squash, $1,948,629

– Cucumber, $5,932,600

– Watermelon, $2,592,230

– TOTAL: $74,980,521

Assuming the grower responses in the study are representative of all growers of that commodity, the total loss at the farm gate attributed to labor shortage for the seven crops studied would be about $140 million.

The data showed in a normal year the growers responding to the survey would need 12,930 harvesters. However, for the spring of 2011 they reported a shortage of 40.4%, needing 5,244 more harvesters to meet the 12,930 target.

The shortage of labor, and dollar losses at the farm gate, also had a tremendous impact on the local communities and the entire state of Georgia. Hall reported that multi-county and state models of all the business and interactions of consumers and business was formulated by the researchers to estimate the impacts of the reported losses on the local communities and the state as a whole. Calculated on an annual basis, the Spring 2011 berry and vegetable production resulted in an additional $106.5 million dollar lost in other goods and services in Georgia’s economy putting the combined impact at about $181.5 million dollars. Assuming the grower responses in the study are representative of all growers for the seven crops analyzed, the total yearly economic impact would be approximately $391 million dollars and the job loss would be about 3,260 on a statewide basis.

Looking forward to the next crop year, growers were asked ‘Based on your labor situation, what are your plans for 2012?’ For the berry crops, 55% of the respondents answered the question. Due to the significant investment growers have in the orchards and vineyards 65% said they would maintain the current acreage. Many blueberry growers reported while maintaining their current acreage they would be turning to mechanically harvesting more acres than in the past. A few growers said they would increase acreage, while 20% plan to decrease their harvested acreage.

For the vegetables growers, 72% of the respondents answered the question as to their plans in 2012. 53% of the growers said they would be decreasing their acreage in 2012 –some by as much as 100%. Most growers reported decreasing their acreage in the 25% to 50%. 45% of the growers said they would maintain their current acreage for 2012 while only 2% said they would be increasing their acreage.

During his remarks, Hall stated that most of the ‘mandatory e-verify’ legislation is promoted as a jobs creation bill. While this may be true for some industry sectors, it does not create jobs in agriculture. According to the study, there were 5,244 thousand seasonal harvester jobs that were vacant during the 2011 harvest season. This is equivalent to 572 full time jobs. The total impact in job loss was estimated to be about 1282 fewer full time equivalent jobs in Georgia due to the output producers lost in the spring of 2011 due to the labor situation.

Hall said, “Field harvest work is skilled labor. Anyone that has tried to pick blueberries, or cucumbers, or watermelons knows you have to have to have experience, plus be in top physical condition.” He cited these jobs are in the hot sun, high temperatures – 98 to 100 degrees, eight to ten hours a day, and requires lifting, bending, stooping. It is not something that the average citizen can do. For agriculture, E-verify is not a job creating bill – it is job loss legislation.

Organizations assisting the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association with the study included Georgia Farm Bureau, Georgia Peach Council, Georgia Watermelon Association, Georgia Commodity Commission for Blueberries, Georgia Blueberry Growers Association, Georgia Commodity Commission for Vegetables, and the Vidalia Onion Business Council.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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38 comments Add your comment


October 4th, 2011
1:13 pm

I hate to say it to the GA Legislature and the “Gub’nor”: “I TOLD YOU SO!”


October 4th, 2011
1:14 pm

Always wanted to do this……First


October 4th, 2011
1:15 pm

Dang…Well ok 2nd.


October 4th, 2011
1:17 pm


Thought I’d get that out of the way.

It’s interesting that school enrollment numbers don’t seemed to have dropped like we might have expected if workers had moved and taken their children. So it’s quite possible they are still here, using services, but unable to contribute to the economy.

Great job, Jawja!


October 4th, 2011
1:30 pm

And the farmers STILL turned a 700 % profit


October 4th, 2011
1:39 pm

Wonder why this part of what your collegue filed was left off.

“The report does not explain what could have contributed to farm labor shortages in Georgia. But during his testimony on Capitol Hill Tuesday, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black pointed to “unusually high heat and lack of rain, which caused an unexpected rush in harvests” in Georgia.”

How does HB87 take the blame for a draught?


October 4th, 2011
1:41 pm

After (and soon) the Civil Rights Act of 1965 began to be respected by southern states (this would have been around 1970), the US recognized the labor surplus in Mexico and began relaxing enforcement of immigration laws to purposefully allow that labor to move into the US market. Cheap docile labor, from slavery and reconstruction to the last 30+ years of illegal immigrant labor, has been a fundamental part of the US productivity.
Yes. It is bad policy to encourage human beings from another country to enter the US. It is also the unfortunate fact that these human beings were always at risk of US policy changing since their “illegal” status never changed.
But the reasons they were encouraged to come haven’t changed. One must wonder if the question was ever asked, “would the labor be as cheap and as docile if the law were changed to permit more laborers to enter legally?” I suggest the answer to that question is partly responsible for the way the policy was instituted.
So the last generation leaves us with this problem. What will we leave to the next generation? Will it be a sensible solution or one that leaves our grandchildren to suffer the enmity of US citizen grandchildren of today’s illegal immigrants?


October 4th, 2011
2:00 pm

Those are very convincing figures. I have to admit that I have been a hardline anti illegal immigrants in the United States However, I have changed my mind. Illegal immigrants need to be impowered by having the vote in elections. Then they should form a coaLITION With other minorities and have the representaion in the legislature that they need. I have dcecided that the masses have to be empowered to have a fair place in society. Then, when they are empowered, the plantation owners will not be ABLE TO GET Away with the rock bottom wages and the no benefits that they are dolling out to the migrant worker. I see a new day coming when fairness and eqality reign supreme, and it is coming soon.


October 4th, 2011
2:04 pm

All you apologists for HB 87 are willing to throw our agricultural, hospitality, and construction indudstries under the bus for your bigoted views. It’s a real shame, and I hope the folks in those and related industries turn out in mass in the next election and throw the bums out of office who voted for this travesty. At least, we need to be offering some kind of guest worker permit so that these industries can stay afloat; otherwise the economy of our whole state is going to suffer, and farmers and others will be going out of business. And Black’s rationalization concerning heat and drought are weak arguments. We’ve had those things before without the devastating effects that HB 87 have had.

J Throckmorton Malcontent

October 4th, 2011
2:10 pm

Why look, I have the solution right here. Raise your right hand and repeat after me amigos:
Juro fidelidad a la bandera
de los Estados Unidos de América,
y a la república que representa
una nación bajo Dios,
indivisible cón libertad
y justicía para todós.

Bienvenidos a Estados Unidos, citizens. Now here’s your tax form and your voters registration. We’re glad to have your industrious, thrifty, fresh blood here in our wonderful land of freedom and opportunity.


October 4th, 2011
2:20 pm

I fail to see why abled bodied persons in this state who receive a check cannot be used to harvest these crops? In Germany if you receive government assistance,you must provide some service in return!! NO WORK,NO CHECK!

Three Jack

October 4th, 2011
2:40 pm

Brilliant seabeau, force private businesses to utilize lazy, non-working freeloaders instead of hard working, experienced hispanics. They tried your way this year with parolees, it failed miserably.

This problem is easily resolved if common sense is applied. Issue temporary work visas and get back to harvesting crops as we did previously. Sorry to all you xenophobic freaks, but either the crops get harvested or Georgia farmers will stop farming.


October 4th, 2011
2:46 pm

If unemployed workers drawing unemployment benefits refuse to work on farms, their benefits should stop. I help pay those unemployment benefits as an employer and I should have a say-so about who receives the benefits. Employees pay nothing into the DOL funds nor the Fed unemployment funds.


October 4th, 2011
3:06 pm

Three Jack: Cons only get some of the money they earn on work details. And aren’t most of them from the dregs of society ,as far as work ethics goes. Remember the last line, NO WORK,NO CHECK! It says it all!!

The Anti-Gnostic

October 4th, 2011
3:37 pm

I can hear the old Southern planters now:

“How does the Union expect us to grow cotton without a stout team of darkies purchased from the slave market? We’ll go BANKRUPT without slaves–cotton will NEVER get picked!”

A migrant worker program (which we already have) would appear to be the solution as Georgia agribusiness–including some of the most sophisticated publicly traded companies in the world–apparently tells us they can’t come up with any option other than to let fruit rot in the field.

Even then, what do we do when the season ends and the migrant worker decides to stay? What if the worker fathers a child (or has a child) while he’s here?

Thus, the ratchet moves ever one way. Anybody who thinks the trend is positive can ask themselves why even Meso-Americans don’t like living in a country with a market dominant Meso-American majority.


October 4th, 2011
4:24 pm

Jack, I guess you missed where the unemployment premiums have been reduced and/or waived since 2002 to make Georgia a more employer friendly state.

The easiest solution is to instruct all South American farm laborers to claim they are from Cuba; for which we have granted special asylum to if their feet are dry…

Three Jack

October 4th, 2011
5:08 pm

seaubeau, Why would a farm owner want to replace hard workers of hispanic descent with lazy handout receipients forced by the state to work? Everybody seems to ignore farmers in this discussion as if they should just go along with whatever plan a bunch of lawyer legislators concoct in Atlanta. Maybe the better solution would be for Rep. Matt Ramsey to haul his attorney butt to S. Ga in order to see firsthand what his misguided legislation did to crop production in our state. Hell, make him put on some gloves and start picking!


October 4th, 2011
5:21 pm

Yeah or maybe they were lost because farmers employ cheap ILLEGAL labor and now the consequences are what they are. They need to shut up, obey the law and take their lumps. Next year maybe they will plan appropriately.

[...] chief in child porn case •  Appeals court to review immigrant housing ban •  Ag report: $16 million in Vidalia onions, $29 million in blueberries lost to HB 87 •  300 New York brides report they were forced into marriage •  NoVa’s [...]


October 4th, 2011
7:06 pm

What would it have cost these ‘farmers’ to hire citizens and pay them real wages?
A couple of pennies more a pound?
Wouldn’t that have been less of a loss?
Lock these criminal plantation owners up for life and sell their plantations.


October 4th, 2011
7:09 pm

Anti Gnostic

I have been wondering this myself for a few months.

Did these clowns forget about the war we lost, the generations they refused to pay fair wages by ’share cropping’ and they still don’t get it?

Pay a fair wage and charge a fair price, and at the same time, stop importing slave picked crops from other countries.


October 4th, 2011
7:32 pm

For those of you who think higher wages alone will convince the unemployed to work in agriculture then think again. These businesses have to compete like all others, our food comes from all over the world now. Why don’t we sew clothes in Georgia anymore, labor is to expensive, why are are plastic plants being dismantled and shipped to Mexico, China, India etc., labor costs are too high. Agriculture is one of our few remaining functioning industries, do you want to see it go the way of the others?


October 4th, 2011
10:06 pm

This must mean that farmers have been hiring illegals out the arse! The Bill did a great job then if the illegals took their caravan of foodstamp freeloading chiren and elderly out of state with them if they left. Let us hope so!

No reason for any crops to be lost. Pay better wages. According to the prices in the retail stores, somebody can surely afford to!


October 4th, 2011
10:08 pm


October 4th, 2011
7:32 pm

Agriculture is one of our few remaining functioning industries, do you want to see it go the way of the others?



October 4th, 2011
11:18 pm

I thought I heard that Tom Baxter was a part of this study too. Is that former AJC Tom? Just wondering.


October 5th, 2011
2:18 am

What I would like to ask all of these farmers is why all of you are still hiring illegal migrants to pick your crops when there are harvesters on the market that can do the job faster and better? There are machines on the market sold in this country that can harvest almost every vegetable that is planted in the US. There are corn harvesters, tomato harvesters, blueberry harvesters you name it. You people don’t want to modernize your farms do you? You would much rather hire the illegals than buy the equipment needed to do the job. All of you can afford the upgrades none of you are that poor and then think nothing of dropping the upkeep and the huge burden of the illegal population that you encouraged to come to your state knowing they can illegally work for you on the taxpayer.
Farmers in Europe are way ahead of the game because they have modernized and mechanized their farms for years while you people are still in the 1950’s.

Edward Ruffin

October 5th, 2011
7:17 am

Who was doing the farm labor before we have illegals? Whoever that was let’s bring them back and put them to work.

The Anti-Gnostic

October 5th, 2011
8:24 am

Immigration puts the “diversity is an end in itself” crowd on the horns of some genuine dilemmas:

1. Good luck with your “living wage” and collective bargaining agreements when the Chamber of Commerce can jack up the labor supply at will. Remember Cesar Chavez and the UFW? Or better, remember why Chavez opposed illegals and you don’t hear much about the UFW anymore?

2. People take up space and generate waste. It took $100M to get the Sierra Club to shut up about immigration, but David Gelbaum paid it, and the environmental movement doesn’t talk about sustainable populations any more. Or the depleted Mexican fishery.


October 5th, 2011
9:04 am

Ruffin. Latino’s have been harvesting produce for decades, but the farm work force demographic was substanstially altered by the Civil Rights Act of 1965.
The immigration laws were essentially ignored on purpose from 1970 until the last 15 years to replace the American workers who experienced more and better job opportunities after the Civil Rights Act.
And, frankly, today few Americans would be physically fit enough to do the job. As a teen, I worked at a sawmill out in the sun for more than 8 hours a day and was tired, but able.
No way I could do that today.


October 5th, 2011
9:43 am

MAKE ALL of these foreign born companies relocate their worldwide HQs here to America or shut down ALL of the businesses they have in the USA!

As for farms, install lightning detectors on the farms, and make sure that in the summer (if no storms are occurring) that workers have proper hydration.

How hard is it to do this stuff?

thomas mc

October 5th, 2011
1:02 pm

It’s hard to have sympathy for these Tea Party fascists, who scapegoat Mexicans the way Hitler did the Jews.


October 5th, 2011
1:46 pm


October 5th, 2011
2:15 pm

The losses can’t be blamed entirely on a labor shortage. The normal harvest period was shortened by unusually hot weather that caused crops to ripen more quickly than normal. Plus, there was a drought.

already settled...

October 5th, 2011
6:47 pm

I believe that we have already settled the plantations owner’s right to use slave labor. They simply changed to a lighter color slave and now pay them what it used to cost to house them – a thin veil if you ask me. I do believe that those who remain reliant on this labor should fail – smaller and local agribusiness’ will take up the slack quickly.


October 6th, 2011
10:01 am

Anyone ever watch “Dirty Jobs”? Getting Americans to do the hard, dirty, and difficult work is not the problem. Getting them to do it for a fraction of the prevailing wage is.

What the illegal alien labor did was allow growers to flood the market and drive down the prices, thereby increasing the incentive to bring in even more illegals because the profit margins were not there to hire Americans. Sorta like a self fulfilling prophecy.

Oh well, I’ve got hay on the ground and this law abiding American citizen does the dirty work himself – no illegal mexicans on my land.

Oh really

October 6th, 2011
10:30 am

In the News – Thursday, January 20, 2011
While the media have faithfully reported on the agriculture angle, the existence of the legal alternative to continuing to hire black market farm laborers who have escaped capture at our borders has so far eluded mention.

It is something called the H2A agricultural worker visa.

This agricultural program establishes lawful means for agricultural employers who anticipate a shortage of domestic workers to bring an unlimited number — no ceiling! — of temporary foreign workers into the United States.

By D.A. King — Gwinnett (Ga.) Daily Post


October 6th, 2011
8:35 pm

Thank you Nathan Deal. As far heat and rain. Don’t you think that the undocumented workers trying to live and breathe free would let the elements. stop them from working? Come on, stop making excuses. And, I thought you all like it when people make money. Make up your minds, I getting confused!


October 8th, 2011
8:07 am

Better planning and automation would have spared the farmers’ losses. The VISA system takes time to work. Farmers cannot wait until the last minute to apply for their workers. Many, but not all, picking jobs could be done by machines. Let’s dump the illegal (slave) labor idea and implement roving automation like is done for the wheat harvest.