Can probationers alleviate farm labor shortage? - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Can probationers alleviate farm labor shortage?

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LESLIE, GA (WALB) – A new development in Georgia's farm labor struggle.

Governor Nathan Deal announced Tuesday a proposal to help farmers who can't find enough field workers because of the state's new immigration law.

He thinks unemployed state probationers could pick up the slack. Will the plan work?

Benito Mendez is a harvesting crew foreman at Minor Produce in Leslie. 17 years in the business he knows about strenuous field work, especially in 100 degree heat.

"So many people come in and go. They don't stay long," says Mendez.

With the migrant work force leaving Georgia in route to other states with less strict immigrations laws, Governor Nathan Deal's farm labor survey showed an 11,000 worker shortage. His plan: offer the jobs to state probationers.

"We have more than 100,000 probationers in the state. 8,000 of them are in the southwest region of the state and 25% of them are unemployed. So the commissioners thought this would be a good avenue to provide jobs to probationers," Kristen Stancil, spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Corrections.

Officials call it a pilot program. Minor Produce is one of 4 participating southwest Georgia farms. But in the long run will probationers cut it in the fields while alleviating the farm labor shortage? According to Mendez who oversees the work in the fields, probably not.

"The probation people from Americus have sent some people here, but they'll take in two or three orders and then they take off and don't work," said Mendez.

He says in the past 3 days, 15 probationers have come and gone. It's the heat, he says, that takes a toll on workers who aren't conditioned for the work.

 Advocates say the program is still in it's infancy - a project in the works. But proponents say if 1 out of 5 probationers can cut it, then that's improvement.

Only time will tell how well it works.

The four pilot farm programs are in Colquitt, Echols, and Sumter counties.

The Governor along with the Commissioners of Labor and Agriculture devised the plan.

Governor Deal calls the move a "partial solution" to the farm worker shortage.

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