Immigration reform is vital to agriculture in Western North Carolina

May 14, 2014

Agriculture needs workers and our economy needs agriculture.

 

It is not a secret that Agriculture depends heavily on undocumented workers. However, it is often forgotten that agriculture contributes $77 billion or about 20 percent to our state’s economy. This makes immigration reform both critical for agriculture and our economy.

 

As farmer in Western North Caroina, we are very fortunate to have Congressman Mark Meadows who not only understands the importance of agriculture and immigration reform, but he listens to farmers and businesses that are directly impacted by not only that the immigration system is reformed but how it is reformed.

It’s great that farmers in Western North Carolina have a congressman who understands that farming is hard work and labor-intensive. He understands that labor is vital to our success and it accounts for nearly 20 percent of production cost for the sector as a whole and up to 40-50 percent for labor-intensive subsectors like fruits and vegetables.

 

This acute vulnerability in the agriculture community and its more than 52,000 farms is a perfect example of why we need for immigration reform now.  This is not a sector of the economy that we can afford to ignore. It accounts for about 642,000 jobs which represents nearly 1 out of every 5 jobs in the state.

 

Without a solid, skilled and dependable workforce, farmers and their families will be unable to continue. For them to survive, we need a legal, reliable, stable and skilled workforce. Without reform, many farmers will be forced to quit production, and we will end up exporting jobs and importing food. Failure to pass immigration reform put tens of thousands of farmers’ livelihoods at risk, as well as imperiling our economy and our country’s food safety.

 

And farmers are not alone in the critical need for immigration reform. Our state’s businesses community needs immigration reform just as much as our farmers.  Recently, I read an article stating that just over 32 percent of science, technology, engineering and math graduates at the state’s most research-intensive schools are foreign-born.  And 33.3 percent of the state’s engineering PhDs are foreign-born.

At Western Carolina University, for example, there are students from 48 states and 35 other countries.  It doesn’t make sense to provide these students with a world-class education, then send them home when they graduate, especially when we have businesses right here in North Carolina that need these graduates. Educating our competition’s top workers is not a good business model for the U.S.

 

Congress needs to address immigration reform now and create a policy that reflects the needs of our citizens nationwide, including farmers. Through developing this policy, Congress needs to pass immigration reform that includes an easy to use and responsive guest worker program, an agriculture visa that provides farmers with year-round and contractual workers and measures to strengthen our nation’s borders.

 

 

Donald Smart

President, Haywood County Farm Bureau

 

 

Larry Wooten

President, North Carolina Farm Bureau

Comments (1)
Posted by: Scott Lilly | May 15, 2014 12:05

Mr. Smart and Mr. Wooten,

 

Your article does not address why you need immigration reform.  You IMPLY it when you say "it is not a secret that Agriculture depends heavily on undocumented workers."  WHY IS THAT?

 

Is it that the minimum wage it too high?  Can you pay undocumented workers less?  Do you pay employment taxes for undocumented workers?  What is it about "undocumented workers" that are special and different from unemployed Americans looking for work?  If we continue to hire immigrants, then we will never have the local workforce needed to sustain this industry.

 



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