North Carolina Faces Farm Labor Shortage

North Carolina may join the growing list of agricultural states facing a critical farm labor shortage this season, adding to many Tar Heel farmers’ worries amidst the uncertainty of the farm bill and the ongoing drought.

For the past few years, immigration and farm labor have been tied together in several agricultural states. In Arizona, Georgia, and Alabama, tough new immigration laws designed to prevent the influx of undocumented workers significantly reduced the available labor pool, causing tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue.

North Carolina, however, has not passed a similar immigration law. State guest worker programs and immigration laws are relatively lax in comparison to their neighbors. The labor shortage, some experts believe, is largely the result of diminishing migrant labor from Mexico.

North Carolina is a leading producer of tobacco, sweet potatoes, and other fruits and vegetables. All together, the agricultural sector contributes about $70 billion (20 percent) to the state economy.

While North Carolina farmers have not yet felt the pinch of shrinking labor pools, they have also not yet hit peak harvesting season. Nationally, the Farm Bureau predicts that labor shortages could cost the farm economy more than $7 billion. With losses this large, North Carolina is almost certain to feel the upcoming blow.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer