North Carolina’s Largest Industry Needs Stability not Uncertainty

By Larry Wooten President of the NC Farm Bureau

August 26, 2013

Agriculture and agribusiness is the largest industry in North Carolina. It accounts for $71.6 billion of the state’s economy. That’s nearly one out of every five jobs, and it’s worth protecting.

But let’s face it, not all agriculture jobs are desirable for North Carolinians, and our farmers depend on skilled workers to keep their supply up and your costs down.

Earlier this year, we released an Agriculture Workforce Report showing the immense need that our farmers expressed for a more stable agricultural workforce. 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. The report shows more than 60 percent of surveyed farmers have had trouble hiring qualified domestic employees, and nearly one-third reported a loss of income in the past five 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. This report explains firsthand from farmers that our system is broken.

Six months after the release of the report, the 2013 NC Legislative Session is over, and farmers are still dealing with workforce uncertainty as they prepare to harvest their crops. During the legislative session, there was a glimpse of relief for farmers – the RECLAIM NC Act (HB 786). The bill overwhelmingly passed the NC House (85-28) and Senate (43-1) during the 2013 Legislative Session but was vetoed by the Governor.

We realize that the RECLAIM NC Act is not a perfect solution, but it is a reasonable bill as it recognizes the difficulties farmers have in acquiring skilled workers to harvest their crops. It’s a bill that keeps our farmers from letting fields upon fields of crops go to waste like other states.

As the state’s largest agricultural organization, NC Farm Bureau represents more than 500,000 members, and we too would like to see more of our agricultural jobs go to North Carolina citizens. We would like for farm positions to become highly sought after in North Carolina. The reality is that our farmers have tried to hire qualified domestic workers but have found little interest and high turnover.

This is not a sustainable situation. To remain North Carolina’s largest industry, farmers need the ability to plan for the future like any other business or industry. But with Congress dodging immigration reform, our farmers have been handed uncertainty and instability. The RECLAIM NC Act helps stabilize state policy and puts the pressure on Congress to fix the problem.

Farmers need to plan for the future, and they cannot afford for the RECLAIM NC Act veto to stand.