“Import Our Workers or Import Our Food”
RALEIGH – North Carolina Farm Bureau today (Thursday) will release its Agriculture Workforce Report revealing evidence of an unstable agriculture workforce and the urgent need to reform a broken system. A press conference was held at 11:00 a.m. in front of the General Assembly in Raleigh, NC where nearly 300 NC Farm Bureau members and leaders were present in support of common-sense and workable reform in North Carolina.
“We have heard from farmers across North Carolina that one of the most pressing issues they face is the need for a more stable agriculture workforce,” North Carolina Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten said. “North Carolina Farm Bureau and our partners believe that our farmers deserve a voice in Raleigh and in Washington, and we are here today to express their concerns to their elected officials.”
More than 600 North Carolina farmers from 95 of the state’s 100 counties responded to the agriculture workforce survey, a joint effort between Farm Bureau and 18 other agriculture associations. Wooten said the report shows more than 60% of surveyed farmers have had trouble hiring qualified domestic employees, and that nearly one-third reported a loss of income in the past 5 years due to an insufficient supply of workers. Perhaps the most staggering finding was related to the federal E-Verify program: almost one in five surveyed farmers indicated they would shut down their farm if E-Verify became mandatory without a workable guest worker program in place. “We’re talking billions of dollars and tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of jobs lost from our state’s economy,” said Wooten.
Patterson Farm is a third generation family farm that grows 450 acres of fruits and vegetables. “Farmers are facing more uncertainty and instability than ever before. Even with the high unemployment numbers in our state, we still have trouble hiring and retaining workers,” said Doug Patterson, owner of Patterson Farm. Patterson continued, “We cannot afford to invest in a workforce that is unreliable. We feel that if nothing is done in the next few years, we will reduce acreage or get out of the fruit and vegetable farming business altogether. North Carolina will have to decide to import our workers or import our food.”
Patterson added, “If the state passes and implements a mandatory E-verify system without a viable, affordable federal guest worker program in place, then many farmers will be forced to quit.”
Wooten went on to say that while farmers are struggling under unfavorable circumstances, he is hopeful that reform is not far off. “We have been encouraged by the recent bipartisan efforts in Congress to make meaningful, comprehensive immigration reform a top priority this session. Our leaders cannot miss this opportunity to fix the broken immigration system in our country. It is imperative that our elected officials understand the unique needs of today’s farming and provide a workable guest worker program that allows our farmers to maximize production. Our nation deserves high-quality, affordable, and safe food and fiber, now and in the future.”
Agriculture and agribusiness is the largest industry in North Carolina, accounting for $71.6 billion of the state’s economy and nearly one out of every five jobs. The North Carolina Farm Bureau is the largest agriculture organization in the state, with more than 500,000 members.
The report and background information will be available at the press conference and via the North Carolina Farm Bureau Web site, www.ncfb.org.