AGRICULTURAL LABOR SOLUTIONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

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USDOL Sends 1.5 Million in Taxpayer Money to Ghana

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs has awarded a $1.5 million cooperative agreement to Tulane University’s Payson Center for International Development in New Orleans to carry out research on the prevalence of child labor in cocoa-growing areas of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.

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http://www.ciclt.net/sn/new/n_detail.aspx?ClientCode=ncagbc&N_ID=50064

North Carolina Christmas Trees

The Christmas tree crop in North Carolina is an important one for the state. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services estimates the value of the crop to be approximately $100 million annually. The department reports that North Carolina is the number two producer of cut trees in the U.S. behind Oregon, with Ashe, Alleghany, Avery, Watauga and Jackson counties producing the most trees.

Read more:
http://www.carolinacountry.com/index.php/carolina-stories/item/north-carolina-christmas-trees

Growing the Farm Labor Supply

BY LEE WICKER
November 25, 2012
Originally appeared on NewsObserver.com
http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/11/25/2501707_growing-the-farm-labor-supply.html

I grow row crops and tobacco in Lee County on land my family has been farming for five generations. We plant 25 acres and need between two and 12 people for a few months each year at planting and harvest time.

This year, just like every year, I tried to find local workers. I raised wages to the point that I knew I was going to lose money. I offered jobs to everyone who applied, but still couldn’t find enough workers to get the job done.

I am typical of farmers like me – small- to medium-sized growers with labor-intensive crops. I look at my workers’ identification and fill out I-9 employment forms like I’m supposed to – the last thing I want is to put my business at risk by hiring illegal workers.

Because U.S. workers routinely reject farm work, my best option for hiring legal workers is to participate in the federal H-2A guest worker program. But that program is too bureaucratic, too slow and too expensive. I’ve been able to make it work – barely – but it gets more difficult and expensive each year.

Many growers around the country have found the H-2A program is simply too inflexible to meet their dynamic labor needs and are willing to take calculated risks with whomever they can find to plant and harvest the crops.

The single biggest thing that labor-intensive agriculture has in common across the country is that we are all short on workers, legal or otherwise, even in this depressed economy where many areas have 8 percent unemployment or higher. Whether you live in the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida or out West in California, Oregon or Washington, and whether you grow tobacco, sweet potatoes, Christmas trees, fruit or vegetables – we’re in serious trouble. The future of this country’s food supply is in jeopardy.

These labor shortages on the farm are real and they are not going to improve. It is only going to get worse. Rural America continues to change as the population declines through relocation and fewer U.S. workers will accept temporary farm jobs that involve manual labor outdoors.

As the economy improves, there will be even fewer U.S. workers who choose to do farm work. And as government enforcement of immigration laws gets more effective, workers with bogus papers will no longer be able to get jobs, even on the farm.

There is only one way out of this agricultural labor crisis for our nation: a workable, streamlined way to hire legal foreign workers who want to fill these critical farm jobs. But after more than a decade of contentious debate, Washington still hasn’t solved this problem.

The good news is that farmers like me who are trying to survive are starting to come together and propose new ideas. Under pressure from growers, several bills were introduced in Congress this year to streamline or replace the broken H-2A program – and in one case proposed letting illegal farm workers go home and return legally on temporary work visas. But nothing passed – because Democrats and Republicans couldn’t agree.

It’s the same old story: Most Democrats oppose temporary worker programs and prefer to grant legal status to unauthorized workers, while most Republicans favor visa programs and oppose legalization. The time has come to do both – at the same time.

Create a truly workable, modern, temporary agricultural worker program and provide a way for undocumented farm hands to participate in the new program without including the controversial pathway to citizenship provision that the majority of Americans reject as amnesty.

Several farm groups, including the American Farm Bureau, are developing just such a compromise and I pray that they are successful – and fast.

The agricultural labor problem is not just a problem for America’s farmers, it’s a problem for America. If we don’t have enough labor to plant and harvest our crops here, we’ll soon be buying nearly all of our food from abroad. That is unacceptable.

Our leaders in Washington need to ensure that farmers have access to a sufficient and legal labor force so that we can continue to provide America with a safe, affordable, abundant and domestically produced food supply.

Now that the election is over, lawmakers are looking ahead to their agendas for next year – and a labor fix for agriculture must be at the top of their lists. We must put aside our partisan differences and the grandstanding we’re all so sick of and start finding answers. We need Congress to come together around a deal that works – for American farmers, American workers and foreigners who want to work in the U.S. legally.

The time is now – we can do this.

Lee Wicker of Wicker Farms in Lee County is deputy director of the N.C. Growers Association.

House Republicans Support Only Pieces of Bigger Ideas for Immigration Reform

By Fawn Johnson

National Journal

Wednesday, February 27, 2013 | 8:15 p.m.

Make no mistake: Rank-and-file House Republicans are willing to go along with some of the immigration-reform ideas floating around Washington. But they are a long way from accepting the broad schemes being outlined by the “Gang of Eight” in the Senate, which includes a path to citizenship for some 12 million illegal immigrants.

Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, provides a good example of the thinking among House conservatives—and there are many of them—who are not automatic “no” votes on immigration legislation. “Let’s deal with agriculture first,” Poe told National Journal. “Take what’s going on in the agriculture community, a verifiable temporary-worker program, fix it so it works. Then apply that to other areas.”

The agriculture community is the sector that is, by far, the most in need of changes to the immigration system. Researchers estimate that more than three-fourths of farmworkers are unauthorized. The temporary-worker program now in place for agriculture workers is so bumbling and bureaucratic that many farmers opt not to use it at all.

To that end, House Republicans are willing to try to fix the problem, but only with temporary work visas and possibly only for the agriculture community. “We have to deal with the illegals here, the gainfully employed. We need a guest-worker program, especially in the agriculture community,” Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., said at a conservative briefing Wednesday.

At a Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, panel Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., hinted that he would not oppose giving undocumented farmworkers some type of work visa. He worried, however, that without a robust employment-verification system, “guest workers could seek illegal work outside of agriculture.” That means, from a GOP standpoint, that no visas will be forthcoming without mandatory electronic checks of all new hires everywhere.

The idea of giving work visas to illegal immigrants is a big step for Republicans, because it touches on the dreaded “amnesty” provisions that killed immigration efforts in the past. The Texas Republican Party made national waves last year when it adopted a state immigration platform that included work visas for undocumented immigrants already in the United States. But the Texas policy statement also included deal-breaker provisions for Democrats, such as ending automatic citizenship for babies born on U.S. soil.

Conservative House Republicans appear willing to legalize the undocumented workforce, but they are saying no to guaranteed citizenship. “We don’t need a pathway to citizenship. We already have that,” said Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., a tea-party favorite. Massie said that even his most conservative constituents realize that deporting 12 million people is impossible.

This conversation is a far cry from Republicans’ previous unwillingness to confront the issue in the House. In the last Congress, a solid GOP bill for mandatory employment verification didn’t even make it out of committee. But rank-and-file conservatives’ newfound hope that they can negotiate immigration legislation with Democrats may not square with reality. President Obama wants definitive citizenship within 10 years for eligible undocumented immigrants.

Immigration hard-liners like Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, say Obama can’t be trusted because he has instructed immigration authorities to let thousands of detainees go. What’s more, Republicans fear that Obama doesn’t actually care if legislation passes. “I think the president wants to use this issue in 2014 as a bludgeon,” Massie said.