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Tab Berg

Crack down on crime, not farmers.

In the midst of struggling economy, California should not miss the devastating lesson the agriculture industry in Georgia is experiencing as a result of the E-Verify program.

Earlier this year, Georgia passed E-Verify legislation without considering a solution for agriculture. Since the law went into effect, farm labor workers have been fleeing the state, leaving crops literally rotting on the vine.

A report released earlier this month by the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development showed the state experienced a $75 million loss directly attributable to harvest or packing labor shortages.

California should take note: agricultural accounts for $1.2 trillion a year in exports, the potential effect of a federally mandated E-Verify program without a solution for agriculture could cripple our economy. Productivity will plummet and food prices will skyrocket – something California needs to avoid.

The argument that any vacated labor positions would alleviate the unemployment burden California suffers has been tested and the results were disappointing:

  • According to Atlanta’s NBC affiliate, 18 probationers reported to work at a farm where labor was needed. By noon, eight had quit. The remaining workers, although paid the same wage as the migrant staff, worked half as fast.
  • In South Carolina, the government farm bureau waged a statewide effort to hire 60,000 workers for its fields. Only six people responded despite an aggressive ad campaign.

Running the same failed experiment in California would likely result in the same failed results.

Farming is seasonal — so is the work; and those who do that work live a different lifestyle – temporary, mobile and irregular.

The truth is, farming is very specialized and the unemployed work force is not necessarily prepared or willing to meet the demands of the job.

The absence of farm labor amendments to E-Verify could eventually lead to ag work being exported, ironically, to Mexico or even overseas to China. I’m not anxious to see “Grown in China” stickers on my avocados anytime soon. At the very least we run the risk of food shortages and inflated prices.

California is the only state in the U.S. to produce specialty crops like almonds, artichokes, pistachios, pomegranates and figs. We like to think of the Golden State as the “the nation’s bread basket.” Yet, E-Verify has the potential to cripple California’s agricultural industry and leave our own baskets empty. Enacting the “E-Verify” program, without a provision for the agriculture industry, will decimate an already anemic California economy.  We need real action to secure our borders, but this isn’t it.