With spring rapidly approaching, American agriculture industries are increasingly worried about a growing labor shortage. An American Farm Bureau Federation economic analysis concluded that $5 billion to $9 billion in annual production is in jeopardy if the U.S. employee shortage cannot be filled.

A recent University of Georgia report found a projected loss of $391 million last year in the Peach State due to crop rot from labor shortages. Alabama is also experiencing severe economic losses due to labor shortage.

In Kansas, Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman is seeking a federal waiver that would allow companies to hire illegal immigrants. Rodman has met several times with officials at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security about launching a pilot program that would place employers and illegal immigrants in a special state-organized network. The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that the goal is to create a legal, straightforward manner of organizing existing immigrant labor.

Specifically, labor shortages are a problem for dairies and feedlots in western Kansas, and the idea of a waiver for illegal immigrants is favored by the Kansas Livestock Association, the Kansas Farm Bureau and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.

In Georgia, Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black has released a report on agricultural labor in the state, recommending that the federal government provide farmers with a guest worker program that’ll help them harvest their crops legally and efficiently.

Last year Georgia and Alabama passed strict immigration reform laws that drove many farm workers out of both states. In Georgia, the new law empowers police to investigate the immigration status of certain suspects and sets new hiring requirements for certain employers, requiring many to start using the federal program called E-Verify to confirm that their newly hired employees are eligible to work in the United States.

In Alabama, the new immigration law allows local police to ask for immigration papers during routing traffic stops. It also requires schools to learn the immigration status of children at school registration time. As a result of this law, an estimated 185,000 Hispanics have left the state.

Speaking at the Southeast Region Fruit and Vegetable Conference held in Savannah, Ga., Commissioner Black said the federal government had failed in its responsibility to find a remedy for farm labor problems.

“The results of our survey continue to make clear that the solution to labor issues facing Georgia producers rests in the hands of the federal government,” said Black. 

“Agriculture is our state’s No. 1 industry, yet the federal government is failing to provide our farmers with the skilled labor they need to harvest crops in a legal and efficient manner. It is time our friends in Washington step up to the plate and provide us with a system that works.”

Immigration reform is a top priority for the American Farm Bureau Federation. “Farmers and ranchers face a shortage of workers who are willing and able to work on farms and in fields,” according to AFBF. “Reforms to the immigration system must assure that American agriculture has a legal, stable supply of workers, both in the short- and the long-term. This includes attracting a sufficient number of competent, willing and able employees to sustain and grow production; allowing the recruitment and hiring of non-resident agricultural workers when the need is demonstrated; and allowing an opportunity for some current non-resident agricultural workers to apply for legal resident status.”