Planting, or not, for the future
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Jan 23, 2012 | 9543 views |  0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
By any standard, farming is a strenuous, 24-hour-a-day business. There’s little margin for error. Good weather’s a must. Competitive and fair market prices are critical. Without ample labor, productivity and profitability are compromised.

Farmers ultimately control few of those variables. And in Alabama and other states where legislatures have passed over-aggressive illegal-immigration laws, farmers continue to struggle because too few workers remain available to harvest fruit and vegetables.

Alabama farmers have complained about that nasty byproduct of HB56 since the fall. Their complaints initially fell on deaf ears in Montgomery, though the state Legislature now says it will rewrite portions of the law in the upcoming session. Now that it’s January, farmers in Alabama and neighboring states are making plans for the spring seasons while assuming that today’s labor shortage may affect the coming year’s crops, as well.

The farcical belief that the unemployed — machinists, salesmen, computer technicians, teachers, cashiers, office workers — would flock to farmers’ fields because they needed a paycheck has proven a ruse. It’s not happening, despite the weak assurances by the Republicans who backed HB56.

Farming takes planning. Missteps and bad decisions can prove costly. So it’s no surprise that farmers in Alabama and Georgia are altering their plans for 2012 since the current labor shortage may linger throughout the foreseeable future.

Last week, an Associated Press story highlighted the cases of several farmers who are radically changing course. They’re still planting, just not as they would have had these states’ mean-spirited immigration laws not passed.

Officials in Georgia say some — though not all — growers of that state’s heralded Vidalia onions are reducing the number of acres they’re planting. Expectations are for a yield that’s as much as 10 percent less than it would normally be. Other Georgia farmers are taking a gamble by increasing the acreage of crops such as sweet corn, cucumber and bell peppers in anticipation that other farmers will reduce their acreage and create a need.

In Alabama, officials at the state Agriculture Commission say it’s not unusual to meet farmers who are holding off on seed and equipment purchases because of the labor shortage. Deputy Commissioner Brett Hall said south Alabama nurseries have more than 2,000 available jobs that remain unfilled in advance of the spring harvest.

Smart farmers aren’t waiting for lawmakers to reverse course or tweak immigration laws. Time isn’t their luxury. That many of their labor-intensive, non-mechanized 2012 crops will be affected is a given. How much remains to be seen.

Consumers should be forewarned: the pain of labor shortages, smaller yields and higher overhead expenses for farmers will trickle down to your grocery stores. One doesn’t have to be a farmer to feel the effects of these misguided laws.
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