How Congress Can Protect North Carolina Jobs and the Economy

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1 How Congress Can Protect North Carolina Jobs and the Economy American agriculture and food production are the envy of the world. Our farmers not only help feed the world, but keep prices low and nutrition high here in the United States. Yet this great agricultural machine is under assault. In North Carolina and throughout the nation, farms are ceasing operations and production is moving abroad, leaving behind a trail of economic damage and job loss. The main reason? An acute shortage of legal and reliable workers. Of all the sectors in the U.S. economy, agriculture is the most dependent on a foreign born and mostly unauthorized workforce. Due to our broken immigration system, the foreign born workers who comprise the overwhelming majority of our agricultural workers have few avenues to become legalized and their employers have few avenues to keep their farms operating at full capacity. And our fresh fruits, vegetables, milk, and meat can t be produced without farm workers. Unless we fix this system, our agricultural base will continue to decline, foreign suppliers will take over, we will be less and less self sufficient in food production and prices will likely soar. This scenario would devastate not only U.S. farming, but the millions of American jobs reliant on a strong agricultural sector. The Decline of Agriculture in North Carolina and the U.S. As agriculture goes, so go millions of agriculture dependent jobs upstream and downstream and billions of dollars from the U.S. economy. Every farm job in the U.S. creates an additional three American jobs in industries like packaging, shipping and supplies, marketing, and insurance. i As the below statistics demonstrate, U.S. farming is declining and at a great expense to North Carolina residents and all Americans: Between 2007 and 2008, over 1.5 million acres of U.S. farmland went dormant: ii Just in this one year, 1.56 million acres of previously productive farmland across the country disappeared. In the state of California alone, over the past five years, 1.5 million acres of productive farmland disappeared. iii U.S. agriculture production is increasingly losing out to foreign competitors. Over 33% of fresh fruit and 20% of fresh vegetables consumed in the U.S. are imported more than double the same proportions in iv In the states of Arizona and California alone, over 80,000 acres of fresh produce that used to be grown in state has been transplanted to other countries. v These trends promise to get worse a 2008 survey from Texas A&M revealed that 77% of vegetable farmers in Texas reported scaling back operations in state, while 27% were involved in 1

2 production outside the U.S. and an additional 36% were considering such a measure. vi The U.S. stands to lose billions of dollars over the next two years. Over the next two years, the United States stands to lose $5 billion to $9 billion in agricultural output if current trends continue and the U.S. Congress does not enact new legislation to address the problem. vii Failure of American farms will lead to a permanent loss of farmland across the U.S., the end of farming as a way of life in many communities, and a severe economic and job impact on North Carolina. In fact, the effects on North Carolina can already be seen: North Carolina has a rich agricultural tradition that includes an over $4 billion poultry industry and a $549 million tobacco industry, making it the nation s top supplier of tobacco with 177,400 acres in production. In North Carolina, vegetables, melons, potatoes, and sweet potatoes account for $334 million of the economy, while nursery, greenhouse, floriculture, and sod account for $574 million worth. However, this tradition is at risk: Farms and farmland in NC are shutting down. In North Carolina between 2007 and 2008, 500 farms have closed down. Since 2003, 500,000 acres of farmland have ceased production. Thousands of NC jobs are at risk. According to the 2007 United States Census of Agriculture, North Carolina has 55,500 agriculture workers. Because every farm job in the U.S. creates an estimated additional three American jobs upstream or downstream, that means keeping North Carolina s agricultural industry at full capacity directly protects 222,000 NC jobs. What accounts for this dangerous decline of North Carolina and American agriculture? The most direct factor is the continued instability of the agricultural workforce. Labor challenges in agriculture threaten to outsource much of our food supply while crippling a major economic engine in North Carolina and across the nation. 2

3 The Agricultural Workforce in North Carolina and Beyond If the U.S. can't import foreign workers to help harvest American farm products, the U.S. will have to import more foreign farm products harvested by foreign workers. Either that, or Americans will pay a lot more for fruits and vegetables as their supply shrinks. Blame Mr. Dobbs and Tom Tancredo the next time you're appalled by prices at the grocery. Wall Street Journal editorial Labor intensive agricultural industries are facing an acute shortage of legal workers. From the juice we drink each day at breakfast to the fruits we eat at Fourth of July cookouts to the Christmas trees we welcome into our homes every December, this could have a profound effect on North Carolina and the entire nation. In 2006, approximately 20% of American agricultural products were stranded at the farm gate due to labor shortages. viii In California, the largest agricultural producer in the U.S., estimates of crop losses for 2007 due to labor shortages hit 30%. ix In North Carolina, as noted, 500 farms were lost from and 500,000 acres of farmland have ceased production since Further loss could have a severe impact on the $10.3 billion in economic activity generated by North Carolina agriculture. These problems are directly attributable to the broken U.S. immigration system. The National Agricultural Workers Survey estimates that 50% 66% of agricultural workers nationwide lack proper work authorization. Private estimates run even higher. No other sector of the economy is as dependent upon a foreign born and mostly unauthorized workforce. Yet our current national immigration policy makes it difficult for American farmers of small and medium size farms to hire documented laborers to help grow and harvest their crops or tend livestock. As a result, more and more farmers are forced to acknowledge if we can t bring a dependable and legal workforce to the U.S., we ll move our farm production of fruits, vegetables, plants, meat, and milk overseas. For example, the U.S. Apple Association estimates that, without a solution, the U.S. could lose much of our domestic apple industry and with it over $2 billion in farm gate value. Our apples would have to be imported, most likely from China, the world's largest producer of apples. x 3

4 As Senator Dianne Feinstein noted in 2009, some ask: Why don't American farmers hire Americans to do their work? The unemployment rate is high. People are looking for jobs. So why don't they hire Americans? The fact is, they have tried and tried and tried. But there are very few Americans who are willing to take the job in a hot field, doing backbreaking labor, in temperatures that often exceed 100 degrees. That is a fact. xi Steve Levy, an economist from the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy, said that because few unemployed workers are experienced or interested in farm work, The bottom line is that most unemployed workers are not available to replace fired unauthorized immigrant workers. xii Past attempts to recruit domestic workers into agricultural jobs show the inherent difficulty of such an approach. In 1996 in California s Central Valley, when regional unemployment ran nine 12%, a massive domestic worker training and recruitment effort involving state and county agencies and grower associations successfully placed just a few workers. The result prompted some agencies to adopt policy that they would no longer actively seek to place the unemployed into seasonal farm jobs. Closer to home, the North Carolina Farm Bureau set up a hotline in 2007 to refer interested applicants to farm jobs. There were two responses. Unless we can fashion a solution that provides the American farmer a steady and stable workforce, there will remain a disincentive to stay involved in domestic production of most fruit, vegetables, dairy products, meat, and other labor intensive agricultural products The end result? Increased agricultural outsourcing, leading to job losses and continued economic devastation downstream in North Carolina and throughout the country. And more importing of food, leading to higher food prices for the American consumer. As Senator Feinstein noted in 2009, the central issue here is not immigration it is about protecting and preserving the American economy. We in Congress should be doing everything possible to prevent U.S. farms from shutting down. xiii Jerome Vick, the owner of Vick Family Farms in Wilson, North Carolina, reported in May 2009 that he was still short 40 of the workers he needed to operate his farm for the spring planting. When trying to hire local workers, he stated, we re trying to hire people now, people who live in the area, but they are very hard to come by. A North Carolina agriculture business owner recently adopted the e-verify system to cooperate with government auditors in verifying his employees legal status. The result has been detrimental to his hiring ability. It has been a nightmare to find people to help us in our spring peak season using e-verify, he said. Those that want to work fail to pass the verification, while those who pass e-verify, fail to do the work. The jobs of our American growers, supervisors and managers are at stake when we cannot find the labor. 4

5 5

6 The Solution AgJobs Legislation We've seen what dependence on foreign oil has been like. Can you imagine dependence on foreign food? This is not what American consumers want. U.S. Apple Association letter in support of AgJobs legislation U.S. agriculture needs reform of immigration law to ensure its survival in the current environment. The solution is AgJOBS, a bipartisan proposal supported by both agricultural workers and producers. As Senator Richard Lugar (R IN) stated in March 2010, This legislation is important to maintaining domestically grown supplies of healthy foods. xiv AgJobs legislation would give skilled but unauthorized farm laborers working on U.S. farms the chance to earn legal residency so they can continue to help American farmers. As the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture wrote in support of AgJobs legislation, Millions of American jobs depend on agricultural production and will be enhanced with legislation that can secure a legal work force for agriculture. xv AgJobs would also improve and overhaul the temporary legal worker program known as H2A, to provide for temporary foreign agricultural workers. As noted agricultural economist Dr. James Holt said, to rule out a responsible guest worker program, and thus consign the U.S. to growing dependence on foreign producers for its food and fiber, is irresponsible. xvi If the government fails to pass in a timely manner reforms that provide more workers, "jobs will be lost and more farmland in North Carolina will be sold for development," Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten said. xvii In short, a solution like AgJOBS would mean American farms and American jobs stay here in America while North Carolina s agricultural future is strengthened. i 3:1 downstream job impact estimate from U.S. Department of Agriculture, included in Comments of Dr. James S. Holt to the California Board of Food and Agriculture, Del Mar, CA, April 26, ii U.S. Department of Agriculture state-specific data used to present amount of farms/farmland lost between 2007 and iii Congressional Record statement of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) as presented during the re-introduction of AgJOBS legislation in May iv Dr. James Holt, Farm Labor Shortages and the Economic Evidence of the Declining Competitiveness of U.S. Fruit and Vegetable Producers. James S. Holt & Company LLC, th Street NW, Suite 700 North, Washington DC for the Agricultural Coalition on Immigration Reform (ACIR), 1000 Vermont Avenue NW, Suite 300, Washington DC. April

7 v Arizona and California acreage loss to international competition as cited by Senator Lugar Co-Sponsors Bill to Relieve Labor Crisis in Agriculture, Press Release from Office of Senator Dianne Feinstein, March 12, vi Texas A&M survey data as reported by Agricultural Coalition for Immigration Reform. vii Senator Lugar Co-Sponsors Bill to Relieve Labor Crisis in Agriculture, Press Release from Office of Senator Dianne Feinstein, March 12, viii Immigration Non-Harvest, Editorial, Wall Street Journal, July 20, 2007: A12. ix Immigration Non-Harvest, Editorial, Wall Street Journal, July 20, 2007: A12. x Letter from U.S. Apple Association to Senator Dianne Feinstein in support of AgJobs legislation. May 11, Accessed via Congressional Record. xi Congressional Record statement of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) as presented during the re-introduction of AgJOBS legislation in May xii Julia Preston, American Farmers Cross the Border for Labor, New York Times, September 4, xiii Press Release from the Office of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on the re-introduction of AgJobs legislation, May 14, xiv Senator Lugar Co-Sponsors Bill to Relieve Labor Crisis in Agriculture, Press Release from Office of Senator Dianne Feinstein, March 12, xv Letter from National Association of State Departments of Agriculture to Senator Dianne Feinstein in support of AgJobs legislation, May 11, Accessed via Congressional Record. xvi Dr. James Holt, Farm Labor Shortages and the Economic Evidence of the Declining Competitiveness of U.S. Fruit and Vegetable Producers. James S. Holt & Company LLC, th Street NW, Suite 700 North, Washington DC for the Agricultural Coalition on Immigration Reform (ACIR), 1000 Vermont Avenue NW, Suite 300, Washington DC. April xvii Kristin Collins, N.C. farmers favor reform, News & Observer, June 1,

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