Some farmers who work in Georgia’s $1.1 billion fruit and vegetable industry are now reporting they have only two-thirds or half the workers they need now and for the weeks of harvesting to come, Hall said. Farmers said the full extent of the shortages won’t be known until the coming weeks as they harvest their remaining crops, including watermelons and sweet corn. Hall estimated such shortages could put as much as $300 million in crops at risk this year.
John McKissick, who teaches and researches agricultural economics for the University of Georgia, said the farmers’ assertions about the labor shortage are plausible, but he could not independently confirm them.
“I have certainly heard reports of shortages,” he said. “There are certainly a lot of dollars on the line with timely fruit and vegetable harvests.”
This month, Gov. Nathan Deal signed House Bill 87 into law. Among other things, the law punishes people who transport or harbor illegal immigrants here. It also authorizes police to investigate the immigration status of suspects they believe have committed state or federal crimes and who cannot produce identification, such as a driver’s license, or provide other information that could help police identify them.
Georgia’s agricultural industry -- the largest in the state -- vigorously opposed HB 87 in the Legislature, arguing it could scare away migrant workers and damage the state’s economy.
Minor, who is also president of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, said the Mexican workers he normally depends on to harvest his cucumbers and squash are staying away from Georgia over concerns they will be harassed.
“People are just saying: ‘I am not going to Georgia. The law is terrible. We are going to get in trouble there. Let’s just go on,’ ” Minor said. “They have got options. And what they are saying is ‘Georgia is not the place to go.’”
Minor said his farm is struggling with a shortage of workers even after boosting pay to attract more of them. He added his farm works with the state Labor Department to ensure his hires are eligible to work in the United States.
Manuel De La Rosa, who recruits workers for Minor’s farm, confirmed many migrant workers are skipping Georgia for other states, including Florida. He said these workers became afraid after they heard Hispanic television news programs comparing Georgia’s new law to a stringent one Arizona enacted last year.
“Some of the people who were coming over here to [pick] cucumbers said: ‘No. They are going to catch us. They are going to put us in jail,’ ” said De La Rosa, a U.S. citizen. “Some of them were going to try another state where they have not passed this law yet.”
The author of Georgia’s HB 87 -- Republican Rep. Matt Ramsey of Peachtree City -- repeated Thursday that the law is not set to take effect until July 1.
“And there is nothing in House Bill 87 that anybody that is in our country legally has to worry about,” he said.