Import Our Workers or Import Our Food

About 300 farmers gathered on Wednesday (2/27/13) in Raleigh, NC at the North Carolina State Legislative Building. They were there for a press conference and the release of the North Carolina Farm Bureau’s (NCFB) “North Carolina Agriculture Workforce Report – February 2013“. The NCFB conducted a farm labor survey of approximately 50,000 farms in North Carolina.

One major problem they found was that 61% of the farmers were having trouble finding workers to pick their crops and work their fields. The NCFB advocates an enhanced Guest Worker Program as part of overall U.S. Immigration Reform. The farmers are worried that the NC Legislature will make E-Verify mandatory for temporary farm workers without a reliable guest worker program in place. As of July 1, 2013 NC employers with 25 or more employees will be required to use E-Verify to check work authorization for all new hires. Seasonal temporary workers are exempt but NC farmers are worried this will soon change.

Doug Patterson, owner of Patterson Farm, Inc. which employees about 300 people stated, “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.”

The U.S. does have a guest worker program for Temporary Agricultural Workers, the H-2A visa. There were 65,345* of these visa granted in FY2012. The problem is that U.S. farms hired an estimated million or more undocumented immigrants to fill needed seasonal (temporary) jobs during this same time period! The farmers complain that the existing H-2A program has too much bureaucratic paperwork and requires them to pay inflated wages and benefits. All these things add up and affect their bottom line and in some cases their actual existence!

View the links below for more detail on the subject:

NCFB.org (2/27/13) Press Release:
NCFB Report Reveals an Unstable Agriculture Workforce and Signs of a Broken System

NCFB.org (2/27/13) Report:
North Carolina Agriculture Workforce Report – February 2013

WRAL.com (2/27/13) Video:
Farmers ask lawmakers to ease up on immigration rules

WRAL.com (2/27/13) Article:
NC farmers want help on immigration solution

Globalpost.com (3/1/13) Article:
North Carolina Farmers Wary of E-Verify Mandate
Washingtonpost.com (2/26/13) Article:
Republicans, Democrats agree on need to rework agricultural worker program

*Worldwide NIV Workload by Visa Category FY 2012 (U.S. Dept. of State)