Want A Vidalia Onion? May Want To Pick It Yourself

There appears to be a shortage of workers again this year to pick Georgia’s prized Vidalia onion crop.  Though Georgia’s HB 87 immigration law is still blamed, the shortage appears to be from legal workers.  11Alive/WXIA reports:

For years, Stanley had depended on mostly Hispanic migrant workers to harvest onions.  Last year, Stanley says, many of those workers left Georgia following the state’s passage of a tough new immigration law.  This is the first harvest since that law took effect.

This year, Stanley and other onion farmers began using a federal guest worker program called H2A.  It basically imports workers from countries like Mexico, and then sends them back when the work is finished.

“I had ordered 60 people (via H2A) with the paperwork and everything,” Stanley said.  But Stanley says the government botched his request for sixty guest workers.

“And now I’ve only got seventeen people when I’m supposed to have sixty.  The excuse they gave me was, they lost my paperwork,” Stanley said.

My gut still tells me that HB 87 is aggrivating the age old dividing line between rural South Georgia and urban/suburban Atlanta.  Yet with the Atlanta region still growing and South Georgia’s population shrinking, I wonder how much longer anyone in the seats of power in Atlanta will even pretend to care.



  1. Max Power says:

    Back in the old days my parents sent us down to the farm to work harvesting onions and cropping tobacco. I don’t think most parents nowadays wouldn’t do the same, heck many of my cousins have left farm. Farming is a tough life, and it’s even tougher when you’re facing competition from cheap imports.

  2. jim2011 says:

    Seems odd that this country keeps extending unemployment benefits when we’ve got employers who can’t find enough workers.

    • Max Power says:

      You can’t pay farm workers market wages because of cheap imports. That’s why kids are so good for it.

  3. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    “Yet with the Atlanta region still growing and South Georgia’s population shrinking, I wonder how much longer anyone in the seats of power in Atlanta will even pretend to care.”

    The powers-that-be in Atlanta pretend to still care?

    That’s news to me, because everything that I’ve seen recently says that they could give one iota about agricultural interests in rural South Georgia, because the continued and escalating population shifts into Metro Atlanta and North Georgia says that they no longer have to pretend to.

    That is, unless of course, there is some way that the powers-that-be in Atlanta can make big profits from agricultural interests in South Georgia, then maybe, just maybe, there just might be some interest by Atlanta interests in the plight of independent farmers who can’t find enough illegal laborers to pick fruits and vegetables in South Bumblef–k, Georgia.

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      Sorry, this is a family show. I meant South BumbleFREAK, Georgia.

      Get your minds out of the gutter.

    • ted in bed says:

      What are you talking about, Willis? Ag won big in the the latest tax deal! Ag doesn’t have to pay sales tax after 2013. You are one of the selected winners.

      That’s a better deal than us Cobb County Conservatives got, we get to pay more and our county gets short changed.

      • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

        Like I said, the powers-that-be in Atlanta don’t care about the plight of agricultural interests in South Georgia UNLESS THERE IS A WAY THAT THEY CAN PERSONALLY BENEFIT OR PROFIT.

        Profit or benefit as in protecting the interests of big corporate farms as small independent farmers are not the only game in town anymore, but far from it.

        In fact, the cynical side of me (and, unfortunately that’s a really big side) suspects that these spate of illegal immigration bills across the country, including HB 87 here in Georgia last year, may have been a way for larger corporate agricultural interests to try and put the small guys out of business in the long run or at the very least dramatically reduce their take of the market by cutting off their labor supply and letting them wither on the vine, so to speak, although I could be wrong.

        In any case, there is a part of me (the cynical part) that suspects that this fervor over illegal immigration may not have had as much to do with illegal immigration as most think.

        If a business, small or otherwise, was paying illegals with cash under the table before, what’s to stop them from paying them under the table with cash in this bill? Where’s the penalty for ghost employment and off-the-books employment, etc?

        And where’s the freakin’ fiscal note for HB 87?

  4. segafamily says:

    After reading this story it really makes one wonder how little they pay the workers considering the farmer pays to bring them to and from Mexico, plus pays them a wage while they are here. The farmer may also in fact house and feed them during that time as well, although I don’t know.

    If any of the Peach Pundit readers know the details of how it all works for the farmer along with a bit of financial information, it would be great if he or she could post it for us to all learn some facts. Thanks!

    • tedsimmons says:

      Doug here. I wrote the story on WXIA’s site, and have updated it to answer your question. My “tedsimmons” login is from way-back-when, and I can’t shake it. Simmons was, of course, the best switch-hitting catcher in major league history.

  5. Holly says:

    The H-2A program requires that temporary workers be paid the same wage as American workers would get for the work. Usually, it’s state or federal minimum wage, whichever is higher, but it can also be determined by Adverse Effect Wage Rate or the “prevailing hourly wage.” Really, they’re supposed to make the highest amount possible through a pretty complex set of standards.

    Further, to bring the temporary workers to the location, a farmer must agree to provide free housing and either three meals a day (which he/she can charge for) or a kitchen space so workers can cook for themselves.

    Finally, this program requires that the farmer provide free transportation – to and from the provided housing, and yes, to and from the “area of recruitment.”

    After all of this, if a U.S. worker were to come along and ask for employment, the farmer is then obligated to hire the American and transport the H-2A employee back to his “area of recruitment.”

    As you can imagine, using the H-2A system can be expensive, but it can be even more frustrating when a farmer, such as Mr. Stanley, hit the kind of “lost paperwork” snafus that seem all too common in the program.

    • ricstewart says:

      All this is true. Also, farmers are often required to submit paperwork six months to a year in advance; anyone who knows anything about agriculture knows that most farmers don’t know how many workers they’ll need a year in advance. Because of this, even farmers who use the H-2A program sometimes need additional laborers to supplement their H-2A workers.

  6. segafamily says:

    Thanks, Holly. That was informative and revealing. So the farmer absorbs all those costs (transportation both ways from Mexico, housing, and 3-hot meals or kitchen facilities, plus minimum wage) for a 30 or 40 day harvest period.

    I wonder what the wage would be if the farmer added all the costs, less the wages, and then added that amount to the minimum wage. What would the total hourly wage be then and do you think it would it be enough to draw local U.S. citizens to harvest jobs? Thanks.

  7. Doug Deal says:

    So once again, the problem is government bureaucracy. If they were serious about the H-2A program working, it wouldn’t take 6 months to a year lead time. What ever happened to using computers and automation, instead of letting hard copy forms lay on some Federal employees desk collecting dust for several months?

  8. saltycracker says:

    The problem is the Feds have long stonewalled making H2A work by revising and streamlining it. There are a lot of working conditions covered including workman’s comp. H2A did work until illegals got into vogue and it was beneficial to open the borders. AG Industry and their minions prefer to exploit illegals. They have less rights and can be abused far beyond the plantation slaves. An illegal is not even property, You don’t have to pay or work them what you promised or patch ’em up or house them or insure them or protect their children. Sweet !

    HB87 brings the problem to the forefront. Fix the Federal immigration worker laws.

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