State Agriculture Commissioner releases ag labor report

Challenges Congress to find an effective solution to fix labor issues

Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2012

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black today released a report on agriculture labor in Georgia, offering practical solutions to address the concerns of Georgia’s largest and oldest industry. The report, required by Georgia House Bill 87, was delivered to Governor Nathan Deal, Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle and Speaker David Ralston earlier today.

“The results of this survey continue to make clear that the solution to labor issues facing Georgia producers rests in the hands of the federal government,” Black said Tuesday.  “Agriculture is our state’s number one industry, yet the federal government is failing to provide our farmers with the skilled labor they need to harvest crops in a legal and efficient manner. It is time that our friends in Washington step up to the plate and provide us with a system that works.”

The first recommendation in the report points out that only the federal government has the ability to reform existing agriculture guest worker programs to make them useful and effective for farmers. Available options for farmers are too cumbersome, unreliable and bureaucratic to be practical in today’s modern economy. Additionally, more resources need to be put in place for educating the agriculture industry about the federal H-2A program. The third and final recommendation suggests more research be conducted in order to fully understand the complexity of agriculture labor in Georgia.

“More than 40 percent of respondents in our study said the federal H-2A program is not applicable to their operations,” Black said, noting this includes year-round agriculture needs, such as dairies, ginners and landscapers. “Another 20 percent of respondents were completely unfamiliar with the option of H-2A for hiring workers and an additional 16 percent had only heard negative things about it.

“The findings of this report also indicate there are opportunities for improved relations between the agriculture community and the Department of Labor for worker recruitment, while education and outreach will help provide better resources for growers,” Black continued.

Black noted in 2011, Georgia Senators and Representatives offered proposed federal legislation addressing agriculture labor. “We need Senators and Representatives from other states to join this effort in creating a solution to fix the problem,” he said. “Our livelihoods are at stake.”

As consumers increasingly want to know more about where their food comes from, the Department of Agriculture’s survey illustrates the need for a real discussion about a solution to fix labor issues.

“Georgians are concerned about where their food comes from; it is important to them. Our state has a great production capacity, but we need an effective way to get those products from the farm to the table,” Black said. “I challenge consumers to look at the produce available in local stores – you’ll always be able to find blueberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, peaches and the other products you desire – but where these products are grown and sold is directly linked to who is available to harvest them.”

The study obtained responses from 138 Georgia counties, with more than 800 producers responding to the survey, including those from small and large scale operations.

The full report is available online here: http://www.agr.georgia.gov/AgLaborReport.pdf. Additional highlights from the report can be found here:

  • Forty-eight percent of respondents found their part-time workforce to be roughly the same over the past five years, while 20 percent reported their workforce to be smaller.
  • Twenty-one percent of respondents indicated that fewer full- and part-time workers were hired in 2011 when compared to the last five years; major reasons included a poor economy, loss of revenue, poor worker retention and lack of available workers.
  • It is unknown if the lack of full- and part-time workers in 2011 was a direct result of the passage of Georgia HB87, however, the study’s findings suggest this could be an issue and identifies a perception that the lack of workers could be related to the passage of HB87.
  • The survey shows producers pay both full and part time workers at, or above, federal minimum wage.
  • In 2011, more than 50 percent of survey respondents who are producers of blueberries, cabbage, cantaloupe, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, squash, tobacco and watermelon reported income losses.
  • More than 40 percent of respondents said H-2A was not applicable to their farming operations; another 20 percent indicated they were unfamiliar with the program.
  • Most respondents use word of mouth to recruit workers; approximately 13 percent use the Georgia Department of Labor and 3.4 percent reported using H-2A.

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