The Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association (GFVGA) released 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 Pepper $ 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, eight to 10 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.