Atlanta – Georgia's agricultural industry lost tens of millions of dollars last harvest and many farmers say they will plant less in the upcoming season due to a labor shortage triggered by a strict immigration law, two new studies show.
The Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association released the preliminary results of its probe into the economic impact of HB 87, which it says has caused nearly $140 million in losses.
"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 GFVGA's Charles Hall said on presenting the report at the 2011 United Fresh Produce Association's Washington Public Policy Conference
Prepared by the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, the study analyzed data on seven crops: blueberries, blackberries, onions, squash, bell peppers, cucumbers and melons, which together made up close to 46.4 percent of crops harvested in the spring and generate close to $578 million in annual revenue.
Growers who said they had endured a labor shortage this spring and summer accounted for 80 percent of the sown acreage reported in the survey.
The report also warned about the repercussions of the tough immigration measure on the overall economy in rural areas.
If the survey respondents are considered representative of all Georgia farm producers, the total economic impact on the state's economy for this year would be roughly $391 million.
The report also pointed to the impact of the federal E-Verify federal program - used to determine whether applicants are authorized to work in the United States - on a state agricultural industry that generates nearly $68 billion in annual revenue.
"Field harvest work is skilled labor," Hall said, adding that in the case of agriculture E-Verify is a program that eliminates jobs as opposed to creating them.
Since HB 87 took effect July 1, the state's farm producers have reported a drop of as much as 50 percent in their work force, which in turn led them to abandon a portion of their harvests.
Meanwhile, another report released in Washington by the Center for American Progress found that the economic impact of the new immigration law was even greater.
The study titled "How Georgia's Anti-Immigration Law Could Hurt the State's (and the Nation's) Economy" said the farm industry could face up to $800 million in losses, including the cost of converting to mechanized production to cope with labor shortages.
The Georgia law, which its detractors call a carbon copy of Arizona's SB 1070, was approved by the GOP-controlled state legislature in April and signed the following month by Gov. Nathan Deal, also a Republican.
HB 87 requires all Georgia firms with more than 10 employees to use the federal E-Verify system to check job applicants' immigration status and makes it a criminal offense to present false documents or information when applying for a job.
Thanks to a federal court injunction, HB 87 went into effect without its most controversial clauses: one that would allow police to investigate the immigration status of criminal suspects who are unable to produce valid IDs and another that would punish people who knowingly transport or house illegal immigrants.
A judge blocked enforcement of those parts of the law pending an outcome in the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups seeking to have HB 87 overturned.