January 17, 2012 By Eric Ruark

On January 3 the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GADOA) released a report on the effect of HB87, Georgia’s immigration enforcement law, on farmers in the state. The report, required by HB87, deflates the apocalyptic claims by the agribusiness lobby that the law would cause “crops to rot in the fields” and food prices to skyrocket. FAIR’s analysis of the report shows the claims made by corporate farms are false, and that those who benefit from employing illegal workers can afford to pay wages up to 40 percent higher and still remain profitable. It is not surprising that the GADOA report would substantiate FAIR’s work, but what is surprising is that the passage of HB87 had virtually no impact on the profitability of even the largest growers in Georgia.

Entitled a “Report on Agriculture Labor,” the report is actually a 36-question survey, and a thoroughly unscientific survey at that, which was sent out to “over 4,000 agriculture producers, processors and other individuals in professions related to agriculture.” The GADOA received back 811 responses.

The definition of “agriculture labor” is also loosely applied. Only 57 percent of respondents identified themselves as “agricultural producers,” while 23 percent were in the “service industry (lawn and landscaping services, etc.).” The other 20 percent indicated that they were brokers, retailers, marketers, or “golf course superintendents,” etc. Of the 811 respondents 46 percent reported annual gross incomes over $500,000, and 30 percent, by far the largest group represented in the survey, reported gross annual incomes of over $1 million. Consider that only nine percent of crop farms in Georgia (the sector reporting the heaviest loses in the survey for 2011) have annual gross incomes of over $1 million according to the USDA, or that 43 percent of respondents are not involved in agricultural production. In this light, the 26 percent who reported “income loss because of the lack of available workers” (74 percent reported no losses or gains) demonstrates that HB87 impacted those employers who had chosen to hire illegal workers.

The Georgia Agribusiness Council, where Gary Black served as President before becoming the state’s Agricultural Commissioner, estimated that HB87 would result in losses of $300 million for Georgia farmers. Commissioner Black testified before the Senate in October 2011 that losses would be “somewhere in the neighborhood of $150 million.” The survey actually found reported losses in 2011 to be $10 million. That works out to be three percent of the original figure released by agribusiness in order to scare lawmakers away from supporting HB87. Put into a broader context, $10 million represents 0.015 percent of the state’s total agricultural output in 2009, and 0.0013 percent of the total state economy. No wonder when Commissioner Black was asked to respond to the survey findings he said, “We have to look at solutions,” instead of getting “lost in this million versus that million.” Talking about the actual results would expose his previous claims about HB87 as unfounded.

Even more damaging for Big Ag is that the overwhelming number of those who reported hiring fewer farm workers in 2011 blamed the poor economy or the prolonged drought conditions that have existed in Georgia for the past several years. A tiny fraction referred in any way to HB87. For those who hired fewer full-time workers the breakdown was 54 percent economy/weather related, one percent HB87 related. 34 percent hired more workers. For those who hired fewer part-time workers, 40 percent indicated that it was economy/weather related, while seven percent responded that it was HB87 related. 23 percent reported hiring more part-time workers. So even in a survey where large growers are markedly overrepresented, HB87 is at the bottom of a list of complaints.

There can be no denying that many respondents who chose to submit written responses referenced the unwillingness of many Americans to work long hours toiling for little pay and no benefits. The number one reason given was that the government (federal and state) makes it more lucrative not to work by offering easy access to entitlement programs. But not a small minority of respondents gave unacceptably prejudicial reasons such as “Caucasian Americans & African Americans simply will not work full time or part time farm jobs,” (p. 102) and that “Hispanics love the work” (p. 106). When Commissioner Black writes that the “ongoing dialogue…will propel our nation towards a solution,” is this the sort of “dialogue” he is referring to? While it is legitimate to argue that entitlement programs have incentivized Americans not to take jobs as farm laborers, it is unacceptable to argue that the problem facing agribusiness in Georgia is “Lazy white and black workers” (p. 107).

Source: Georgia Department of Agriculture Finds Big Ag Lobby Made False Claims about HB87