Impact of Immigration Enforcement on Georgia Ag Industry Minimal, Report Finds

Article date: 
Monday, January 9, 2012
Article category: 
National Issues
Article Body: 

Last week, the Georgia Department of Agriculture released a report documenting that the impact of the state’s new immigration enforcement law, H.B.87, on the agriculture industry was far less than anticipated. Highlighted in the Report on Agricultural Labor, are the results of a 36-question survey the state sent to over 4,000 agriculture producers, processors and other individuals in professions related to agriculture. (Report at 10) The state received 811 responses: 55 percent of the responses were from growers; 46 percent were from agricultural employers reporting $500,000 or more in annual income. (See Report, p. 12-13)

Overall responses show that one year after the passage of H.B. 87, agricultural employers in Georgia felt a minimal impact if any. Only 26 percent of respondents reported a loss of income due to the lack of available workers. (Report at 56) These losses were estimated to be in excess of $10 million, which represent 0.015 percent of the state’s total agricultural output in 2009, and 0.0013 percent of the total state economy. (Calculations based on data in Report, p. 8)

Importantly, the Report acknowledges that it is unknown whether the passage of H.B. 87 contributed at all to the claimed lack of workers. (Report at 55) Employers responded that several factors contributed to their hiring fewer workers in 2011, including a poor economy, effects of a prolonged drought, loss of revenue, poor worker retention, and lack of workers. (Report at 55) Of the 362 agricultural employers that offered written comments on why they had difficulties hiring workers, only nine percent referenced H.B.87. (Report at 100-117)

These results – even if caused by H.B. 87 – represent a mere fraction the loss agriculture industry groups predicted would result from H.B. 87. Shortly before the law was schedule to go into effect, the Georgia Agribusiness Council estimated crop losses from spoiled and unpicked produce alone could be anywhere from $300 million to over $1 billion. (GBP News, June 23, 2011) Nevertheless, Agriculture Commissioner Black used the new report released by his department to call for a new agricultural guest worker program. In the introduction, he stated: “Existing guest worker programs provide legal paths for workers, but the paths are fraught with far too many business-choking idiosyncrasies – red tape problems that will be highlighted by this study. …The only answer lies in the prospects of a 21st century federal guest worker program that meets the needs of all types of agricultural enterprises.” (Report at 2)