WASHINGTON, D.C. — In 2011, North Carolina Farmers asked for 6,500 seasonal farm employees, only seven Americans showed up and finished the jobs asked of them on these North Carolina Farms. Yadkin County residents, farmers and members of the Yadkin County Farm Bureau Board of Directors, Van Hemric, Jeff Smith, Brent Hunter and Justin Somers recently visited Washington, D.C., to talk with members of Congress about the broken immigration system and the need for dependable labor on Yadkin County farms.
While planning the trip to discuss a wide array of issues facing the agriculture industry in the area, as they arrived in the nation’s Capitol it became very apparent, that for this week at hand immigration and labor would be on the front burner of conversations across the Capitol City.
The Senate had announced plans and began debating an immigration package that would provide funding for the border wall, address DACA, fix loopholes and address abuses in the immigration system, it did not have provisions for agriculture labor, and failed to get the necessary 60 votes in the Senate to move forward.
In the House of Representatives, Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) was preparing to release his Securing America’s Future (SAF) Act. This bill also addresses the border wall, DACA and a host of other issues involved in the current debate, but it also addresses and creates a new H2C year-round guest worker visa program, a condition asked for by farmers and numerous ag groups for some time. The SAF Act continues to work through committee.
Ag groups and farmers have long been concerned about year-round labor sources. Since 1986 the H2A guest worker visa, while flawed, has answered the need for seasonal farm workers on a wide variety of farms such as: tobacco, Christmas tree, fruit and vegetable farms. Locally, dairy and poultry farmers have started to find themselves in the same labor shortage situations as other farms did back in the mid-1980s. Poultry and dairy farms are year-round operations, and the H2A visa program does not address year-round labor, only seasonal. The SAF Act does address the need for year-round labor.
The group had discussions and were able to tell their own farm stories and how these situations affects them, their families, their employees and their farms to several members including: Senator Richard Burr, Representative Virginia Foxx, Representative David Rouzer and Representative Patrick Meehan, of Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District. They also meet with the ag staff in Senator Thom Tillis’ office. The group also attended a meeting in the White House Complex inside the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with Special Assistant to the President for Agriculture, Agriculture Trade and Nutrition, Ray Starling.
Hemric said of the meetings that he “appreciated the open and honest conversations” and that he was in Washington to “represent what he stands for and what is needed on the farm and help those in Washington to better understand farmer’s needs.”
He added, “I’ve noticed times where their eyes opened, like we woke them up, as we told about what’s happening on our farms and in our communities.”
Smith said that while on the trip he has experienced “quite a bit of encouragement and some discouragement, but its part of the conversation.”
Hunter stated the reason he made the trip to Washington “was so that the fifth generation of his farm family would stand a chance and be able to continue to farm, it’s just real important to me.”
Somers wrapped up by saying “all the conversations had been positive, even when it wasn’t good news or there was a difference in opinion, we always stayed positive. I hope that more farmers will make the trip to the nation’s Capitol to tell their ag story.”