Numerous California counties, cities, and communities are built upon a strong tradition of agricultural productivity. Through generations of farmers and entrepreneurs, that tradition has resulted in substantial economic activity. In 2009, California farmers produced $34.8 billion in gross cash receipts. In other words, California’s agriculture communities produced more economic activity than the entire economies of South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, or Vermont.

The future of those communities depends upon their ability to remain competitive and productive. The security of the United States’ food supply depends upon the success of California farms.

E-Verify has the potential to decimate California’s agricultural communities by limiting access to the nation’s highly skilled migrant workers. They represent essential labor that is necessary to harvest the plethora of crops produced each season.

In California, E-Verify is a threat to Agriculture; in Georgia it’s the reality. That’s because that state recently enacted HB 87.

Since that law was approved, migrant workers have been fleeing the state, leaving farmers wondering how they were going to harvest their fields in time.

Charles Hall, Executive Director of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association was interviewed for a June 26, 2011 Gainesville Times article about the immediate impacts of HB 87. 

“What we began hearing in mid- to late May was many of our migrant workers, they were not coming to Georgia,” said Hall. “Farmers are short on harvest labor 30 to 50 percent. You don’t have a whole lot of window – that crop has to come out or it’ll spoil.”

That shortage equals about 11,000 vacant harvesting jobs. In an attempt to fill the void, the state has called upon three agencies to recruit probationers to work the fields. The program has been met with mixed success.

In one instance, reported by Georgia’s Alive11, the NBC affiliate in Atlanta, 18 probationers showed up to work at a farm one Wednesday morning. By lunch, eight had already quit. The supervisor overseeing the men, Benito Mendez, said that the “crew is real slow. If I had to depend on these people, I would lose my crops.”

The workers, who were paid the same wages as the migrant workers but worked half as fast.

The issue extends further than simply harvesting crops efficiently. If crops are left to rot in the fields, farmers will be forced to increase their crop prices in order to break even. But with increasing prices comes decreasing competitiveness.

California’s agricultural competitiveness under a strictly enforced E-Verify system could be further hampered by the agricultural boom of the BRIC Countries – Brazil, Russia, India, and China.

Take for instance strawberries. California is the nation’s leader in strawberry production. But as early as 2005, the California Strawberry Commission produced a report on China’s strawberry market, saying, “China is becoming a more important player in the global strawberry market.” While their per-acre yields are lower, their costs are significantly lower. The per-plant cost for strawberry growers in China can be as low as $.0018 per plant, or about one quarter the cost to American growers.

Much is at stake by remaining competitive in the national/international agricultural market.