Paul Harvey’s unmistakable voice grabbed our attention in his Super Bowl tribute to America’s farmers. Until the turn of the 20th century most Americans lived on the family farm but today most of us are three or four generations removed from that farm. So let us hear what Harvey used to call “the rest of the story.
Any typical workday one in five North Carolinians, about 638,000 of us, go to work in agriculture or agribusiness, generating some $71 billion of our $425 billion gross state product. Twenty years ago a farmer grew enough food to support 53 people; today that number is 200 and needs to double by 2050. If we are to have sufficient food, fiber and forest products agriculture must up its game.
The North Carolina Farm Bureau held its Leadership Conference in Raleigh this week to celebrate the successes and discuss the challenges for this industry that is the number one contributor to our state’s economy. Chief among the challenges is a shortage of labor. Native-born workers are not willing to endure the weather and hard work harvesting crops for $10.76 per hour, so immigrants are essential. Mechanization has helped relieve labor needs but a machine doesn’t know when a berry, melon or apple is ripe for picking. Farm Bureau’s Larry Wooten says we are either going to import our workers or import our food, making the immigration debate in Washington and Raleigh critical to the future of agriculture.
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