Rowing with both oars in the water

Published 6:27 am Monday, March 18, 2013

To the Editor:

In recent years, ‘progress’ and ‘momentum’ are words that most of us would rarely use to describe Congress. But the urgency and attention placed on immigration reform in recent months by the Gang of Eight and other Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle has been encouraging and refreshing. We are cautiously optimistic that the gloves will come off, sleeves will be rolled up, and the hard work of reshaping our nation’s immigration system could be ripe for picking before year’s end.

We need Congress rowing with both oars in the water.

Despite the progress and momentum we have seen thus far, America deserves a federal solution on immigration that ensures we have high-quality, affordable, and safe food and fiber, now and in the future. Agriculture and agribusiness is North Carolina’s largest industry, and is responsible for about 17% of the state’s economy and jobs. If farming is to remain the backbone of our economy, farmers must have a stable and reliable workforce. That is why we must make sure that any reform proposals protect the $71.6 billion that agriculture contributes to our state’s economy.

We released a report showing that more than 60% of surveyed farmers have had trouble hiring qualified domestic employees. This widespread and confirmed shortage of workers has been demonstrated in reports across the nation. As most business owners understand, without workers, we’re out of business.

Farmers need federal reform that ensures they have access to the skilled workers they need, both in the short- and long-term. That’s why Farm Bureau joined nearly 60 organizations representing a broad cross-section of agricultural employers formed the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, whose immediate goal is to solidify a reliable and stable workforce for farmers to avoid lasting, detrimental impact on our economy. The only way this can be accomplished is to include an adjustment of status for experienced but unauthorized agricultural workers who currently reside in the U.S.  These workers would have a future obligation to work in agriculture for several years.

We have proposed an Agricultural Worker Visa Program that will ensure a stable and legal workforce for the future of agriculture. This approach would actually provide farmers and employees with two things they do not have now: flexibility and choice.  Like other industries, farmers should have access to a legal stable workforce and employees should be able to move from farm to farm or sign a long-term contract.

The farming community has come together as never before to find a market-based, flexible solution that makes sense for farmers, employees and consumers. This is the momentum we need to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform that works throughout the nation.

In the absence of a federal immigration solution, several states have attempted to address the problem on their own. North Carolina has remained patient thus far and has demonstrated commendable restraint in the face of public pressure and understandable frustration with Congress.

It has been encouraging to see state legislators calling upon their Congressional Representatives to move forward with immigration reform in Washington. We are confident that our state’s leaders understand that a patchwork of 50 competing and conflicting immigration policies is far from the solution; everyone must row in unison.

North Carolina Farm Bureau and our state’s more than 50,000 farms ask for your help. Tell your Congressional Representative that we need comprehensive reform in 2013 – for farmers, consumers and the future of agriculture.

Larry Wooten


North Carolina Farm Bureau