Vegetable growers are worried about their work force - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Vegetable growers are worried about their work force

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Watermelons and cantaloupes await customers at a roadside stand in Albany.  Both are affected by the new immigration law. Watermelons and cantaloupes await customers at a roadside stand in Albany. Both are affected by the new immigration law.
Alan Bradley sells produce to a couple at this roadside stand in Albany.  Bradley says that business has been good. Alan Bradley sells produce to a couple at this roadside stand in Albany. Bradley says that business has been good.
Watermelons at the Farmer's Market in Cordele.  Watermelons have seen good yields this year, but could be affected if the labor force that picks them is reduced. Watermelons at the Farmer's Market in Cordele. Watermelons have seen good yields this year, but could be affected if the labor force that picks them is reduced.
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Fruit and vegetable farming brings more than 1 billion dollars into Georgia every year, but now the future of the industry is up in the air with the new immigration law in place. So how has that affected growers in our state?

Alan Bradley has been selling produce on Albany's northwest side for about two years.

"I have watermelons, cantaloupes, tomatoes, squash," he said.

He says that business is good, driven by a desire of people to eat healthier and shop locally. One of his biggest sellers is the watermelons.

"The cantaloupes and watermelons are coming from Terrell County," said Bradley.

The watermelons sold here may come from Terrell County, but the undisputed king of watermelons is Crisp County.

Tucker Price is the UGA Extension Agent for Crisp County.  He said, "Crisp County has more acres of watermelons than any other county in Georgia."

But here too the storm clouds are gathering, threatening this sweet crop. And it's not due to the heat. After all, explains Price, "watermelons are a hot weather crop."

That's because of the new immigration law that took effect July 1st.

Watermelons are a labor intensive crop.

Every day, people line up to go into the fields to pick the melons and many of these workers are immigrants. But the new bill passed earlier this year hurt farmers that grow crops like watermelons by taking away some of that labor force. So far, this year's crop has not been heavily impacted as some others:

Price said, "the watermelon crop overall has been good."

Charles Hall from the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association says that there has been an impact. How much of an impact is the question.

The answers will come in the next few weeks, with a survey of growers being conducted by the University of Georgia. Overall, the new immigration bill has not had a great impact on the prices that farmers are getting for watermelons.

Price said, "the prices have held steady."

And so far, it hasn't hurt the stands that sell that produce too much.

Bradley said, "nah, it's been pretty good."

But the concern is that more of these sweet melons will turn sour long before finding their way to a stand like this one in the future.

Hall said that the surveys are going out to their member growers soon, and should be in their mailboxes in the next week or so. He's hoping that they take the time to fill it out, so that his association can use the data that they gather to work with the General Assembly on getting their concerns dealt with in next year's session.

The Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association is looking to get the surveys back by October 1st. A few days ago a federal judge halted enforcement on some parts of the new bill, but the majority of it went into effect on July 1st.

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