Friday, June 20, 2014

Farm Labor in Georgia: Opposing immigration reform means opposing Georgia's largest industry

Georgia Agribusiness Council President Bryan Tolar has published an opinion article titled “Farm labor shortage costly to state” which argues that immigration reform is crucial to the agriculture industry in Georgia. 

His arguments make sense.

For all the talk about service industries in Atlanta, agriculture remains Georgia’s largest industry and remains dependent on labor, some of which must be supplied by a guest-worker program.

People who speak out against such programs, no matter their intention, are speaking against the state’s largest industry and against the state’s economic development.

In Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina combined, agriculture directly employed 34,000 workers in July 2013, of which 10,000 were employed for 149 days or less, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). Even more are employed in indirect occupations such as machinery dealers and agricultural suppliers. There is every reason to believe these numbers will be similar in July 2014.

The job numbers are too large to ignore, and those who stand against immigration reform and guest-worker programs offer no good alternatives. As sophisticated as farming is becoming with its rapid adoption of technology, mechanization is not yet sufficient to replace farm labor.

Our choice is to either bring labor into the country to assist in agricultural production or be dependent on agricultural imports to provide food for our growing population.

Worldwide, agriculture is a growing industry, and Georgia has the resources to continue its role as a major agricultural producer, if it has the labor supply.

Without a guest worker program, labor shortages will cause economic losses in our state that we cannot afford as we continue to climb out of the recent recession.

Those who speak out against immigration reform stand in conflict with the needs of Georgia’s agricultural producers. The Georgia Agribusiness Council is on the right track and should be commended for their stand.

If you are not a premium subscriber to the AJC, you should be able to access his opinion article at or go on Twitter to learn more at #iFarmImmigration.