Farmers are exposed to unique and significant risks risks that if realized could lead to their financial ruin and cripple American agriculture. That is why many farmers purchase crop insurance, which is paid to farmers who lose revenue or crops to factors out of their control. To protect farmers investment and our food supply, the federal Farm Bill discounts the cost of crop insurance.
When an amendment to this years Farm Bill would have prevented some North Carolinafarmers from receiving crop insurance subsidies, North Carolina Sens. Richard Burr and Kay Hagan led the effort to defeat the proposal. Hagan also succeeded in passing an amendment that will help combat fraud, waste and abuse in the crop insurance program, saving dollars for honest, hardworking farm families.
Our senators know that investments in rural development are an essential part of growing and sustaining our rural communities. While only a fraction of the total cost of the Farm Bill, these dollars are used to extend broadband access so that farms can modernize and businesses can compete, to help small towns pay for critical sewer and water upgrades, and to provide grants and loans to support minority and disadvantaged producers, innovative rural enterprises and young farmers and ranchers who represent the next generation of agriculture.
About 85 percent of North Carolina is considered rural. Within our own state, institutions such as the Tobacco Trust Fund, N.C. Rural Economic Development Center and Golden LEAF Foundation play an integral role in sustaining and fueling the growth of our rural communities. Farmers and agribusinesses cannot be asked to shoulder the burden of maintaining healthy rural communities on their own; all of our leaders must understand that funding rural development is essential not only to the health of our states farms and rural communities, but also to our states economy.
The Farm Bill is important to every North Carolinian. Agriculture is the largest industry in the state, accounting for $77 billion or about 20 percent of our economy. With more than 50,000 farms and agribusinesses, North Carolina has one of the most diverse agricultural sectors in the nation.
The Farm Bill helps family farmers sell more goods locally, allowing residents to have fresh, local strawberries in the spring, tomatoes in the summer, apples in the fall and all the sweet potatoes you could ever want. Your Christmas tree probably even comes from one of the many tree farms in the state.
And, in the end, the Farm Bill is about jobs. Nearly 1 in 5 jobs in North Carolina is attributed to agriculture and agribusiness. The farm bill supports our nations backbone, encouraging farmers to grow and innovate while investing in the future of modern agriculture.
Beyond the Farm Bill looms the herculean challenge of passing a meaningful immigration reform bill. Recently, we released a report showing that more than 60 percent of surveyed farmers have had trouble hiring qualified domestic employees. This widespread and confirmed shortage of workers has been demonstrated across the nation including in California and Georgia. As most business owners understand, without workers, were out of business.
Farmers need federal immigration reform that ensures they have access to the skilled workers they need. Agriculture has been very involved in the development of an immigration reform proposal that will ensure a stable and legal work force. Despite competing agendas and policy priorities that are sure to be injected into the immigration debate, Congress must not lose sight of the ultimate goal of fixing what is a broken and burdensome immigration system. We cant afford for Congress to miss this opportunity.
Larry Wooten is president of the N.C. Farm Bureau.