More than 60 percent of North Carolina farmers have difficulty finding local employees to work during the harvesting season, according to a North Carolina Farm Bureau report released Wednesday.
The report was based on surveys of more than 600 farmers across the state.
"The local work force would rather have year-round work,” said vice president of Patterson Farms in China Grove Doug Patterson.
Patterson Farms relies on about 300 migrant workers each summer to pick fruit and vegetables on the 450-acre farm. Patterson recruits them from Mexico using a government guest worker program.
“We pay these workers $9.68 currently. We pay them $1,000 to bring them up here to our farm. We have to house them and transport them to and from town," said Doug Patterson.
Patterson estimates the farm loses about $300,000 each year because of the guest worker program.
"If the current system stays as it is now, the losses keep accumulating and we will not be able to stay in business,” said Randall Patterson, the farm's president.
The agriculture business is North Carolina's biggest industry. It employs one out of about every five people. But produce growers say that could all change if immigration policies aren't reformed.
The Farm Bureau study found that the majority of farmers in the state choose not to use the guest worker program because it is either too expensive or too complicated.