Farmers' concerns grow about immigration laws

Alabama, Georgia growers wonder if they will find enough harvest workers.
By KATE BRUMBACK Published: January 21, 2012
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Stafford said it's unclear if the smaller crop will mean consumers will pay more for the prized sweet onions because prices are dependent on many factors.

Aries Haygood, chairman of the Vidalia Onion Committee, said he has reduced planting by about 15 percent at his farm near Lyons, Ga.

Haygood and some other farmers in both states are using a federal guest worker program, known as H-2A, which lets farmers bring in an unlimited number of temporary agriculture workers.

But some complain it's too expensive and doesn't allow enough flexibility.

Haygood said that sometimes his workers' visas run out before the end of the harvest.

Some members of Georgia's congressional delegation have proposed changes to the H-2A program, notably allowing farmers to provide workers with vouchers to obtain housing nearby rather than being required to provide on-site housing.

Dawson Morton, a lawyer with the Georgia Legal Services Program, dismissed complaints about the guest worker program, arguing the real issue is farmers don't want to pay a legal wage or provide basic housing.

“The H-2A conditions are hardly extravagant,” Morton said. “They're so modest that most Americans aren't willing to accept them.”

Morton noted that a report by Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black showed that some farmers believe legal workers are more expensive and won't work as hard.