Onion harvesting 'game changer' for Tattnall County farm

Published: May. 9, 2016 at 10:24 PM EDT
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TATTNALL CO., GA (WTOC) - Ride through rural South Georgia this time of year and you'll see teams of migrant workers picking sweet onions from the field.

Farmers have struggled for decades to use a federal program to get documented workers. At one Tattnall County farm, a labor crisis may have helped find a solution.

You don't see many tractors in the field this far along in onion season. But, then again, you don't see big machines like this either. Farmers here think they may have found a game changer.

Gary Ray looked behind him as a machine replaced dozens of workers harvesting onions from his field. For years, his family has endured the red tape to get legal migrant workers through a federal program. He says this year, the workers didn't show.

"They denied us. Our crew leader applied to get them and they wouldn't let us have them this year," said Ray.

They had 400 acres of onions that would need picking. They found this machine for sale by a farmer in Mississippi.

"There's a man over there that the state got him to grow onions. It didn't work and he only used it one or two years," Ray said.

He was as eager to sell as they were to buy. Gary says so far so good.

They've let the onions dry in the field a day or two longer than usual to help them withstand bruising. If they can collect their crop with just a quarter of the labor - and find them local - they could say goodbye to the federal program and leave them in the dust.

This experiment could be how they do business from now on.

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