Business & Economy
7:09 am
Thu February 28, 2013

Help Wanted: Immigrants To Work NC Farms

Leoneda Inge reports on the newly released NC Farm Bureau Agriculture Workforce Report.

Tobacco crop at Strickland Farms in Sampson County.
Credit Leoneda Inge

A new survey shows farmers across North Carolina are worried about the agricultural workforce shortage.  And they want Immigration Reform to help fix it.  More than 600 farmers filled out the Agricultural Workforce survey spear-headed by the North Carolina Farm Bureau.  Faylene Whitaker of Whitaker Farms in Climax, NC, filled one out.

“I turned in my survey because it’s a huge problem for us," said Whitaker.

Whitaker Farms grows lots of vegetables, strawberries, tomatoes and even tobacco.  They hire H-2A labor, a visa that allows temporary, immigrant farm workers to work in the U.S.  Whitaker says she’s for Immigration Reform that allows for more legal farm workers. 

“You know for me, I’m looking at how do we have that legal workforce to get those veggies.  Because those veggies when they’re ready, they cannot wait," Whitaker said outside the Legislative Building in downtown Raleigh.

Whitaker, her husband Richard Whitaker and dozens of members of the North Carolina Farm Bureau gathered in the capital city Wednesday to bring attention to workforce issues facing farmers here.  Larry Wooten is president of the Farm Bureau.  He says farmers lose money when they hire workers and then have to fire them once it's discovered they're illegal.

"Our farmers want to hire legal people, they want to be legal themselves.  But we've got a deplorable situation with a broken immigration system that really can only be fixed in Congress," said Wooten.  He told the crowd,  one-third of the farmers surveyed have reported a loss of income in the past five years due to an insufficient supply of workers.  And Wooten said, paying higher wages has not helped solve the problem.

"Our farmers deserve a voice in Raleigh and in Washington," said Wooten. 

The Farm Bureau survey shows small to medium-sized farms are especially worried about the federal E-Verify system which calls for them to check the eligibility of foreign workers beginning this summer.   North Carolina farmers said they want a better system included with Immigration Reform.   Twenty-percent of the farmers surveyed said they would shut down their farm if E-Verify became mandatory without a workable 'guest worker' program in place.

Wooten says if that happens, it would mean billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs lost in the state.