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Stumping for Romney in tobacco country
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Stumping for Romney in tobacco country
Fla. agriculture commissioner talks issues with area farmers




Jerome Vick wants to be certain that Mitt Romney, Republican presidential nominee, understands the need for strong tobacco policy.

Vick was among the group of farmers and others interested in agriculture who gathered Saturday at Barnes Farms near Spring Hope to meet and discuss agriculture issues with Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Putnam, elected to his current post in 2010, stopped at Barnes Farms and FarmPak products during a one-day listening tour on behalf of Mitt Romney’s campaign. Putnam is national co-chairman of Romney’s Farm and Ranchers coalition.

FarmPak and Barnes Farms are operated by Carson Barnes and his son, Johnny. FarmPak is one of the largest suppliers of sweet potatoes in the world. The Barnes family tends thousands of acres of land in Nash and surrounding counties.

Vick wants the country’s potential new president schooled on the importance of tobacco.

Putnam said he’s sorry there’s not more tobacco grown in Florida. But he’s well aware of the importance of tobacco in this country. A fifth generation citrus and cattle rancher, Putnam likened tobacco to how his family’s citrus business makes the cattle ranching economically possible.

Putnam said he’s glad Romney included someone from the Southeast on the coalition because the issues facing farmers here are more diverse. Putnam and representatives in the group all see the need to have a stable, legal workforce in agriculture. Putnam said if we are going to continue to feed our own people in the United States then we’ve got to have a stable, legal workforce.

Brent Leggett, who farms in the Sandy Cross community in Nash County, uses the H-2A farm labor program to secure workers he needs each season. But before Leggett can get workers through H-2A he has to go through the state Employment Security Commission office to look for eligible local workers first. The problem is no local workers want agriculture jobs. Leggett explained that even with the local unemployment rates between 12 and 14 percent, the local work referrals he does receive never show up.

Leggett, who has been growing sweet potatoes and tobacco on his own since 2005, said Americans are not going to do the jobs. Whereas, some of the H-2A workers Leggett has dealt with have been coming back to his farm each year since 2006. He said the workers don’t want to become U.S. citizens. They want to come here and work then return home to Mexico.

Leggett said the H-2A program has got to be revamped and made viable or replacement program created.

"We need one that will work,” he said.

Putnam agreed the H-2A program is not adequate. He describes it as "costly and burdensome” even when it’s working well. That’s why he believes in the need for a smart immigration policy that will let agriculture fill its needs for workers. Putnam pointed out that we bring people into our country and let them secure educations but when they finish school we give them a plane ticket home and kick them out. Instead, Putnam said we need to be stapling a work visa to their diplomas and keep them here.

"We’ve got to have a business approach to human capital,” Putnam said.

Leggett also expressed concern about making sure tobacco remains a part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement because growth for American produced tobacco lies in exports to other countries.

Putnam pointed to the potential increase in the Southeast for pests and diseases that can damage or destroy crops due to the widening and deepening of the Panama Canal. More ships from foreign countries will be docking at ports on the East Coast in the future.

Putnam also talked about the death tax and how it can adversely affect family farm operations in areas where there are high land values, strong commodity prices and high capital equipment costs. Putnam said family farming operations are very difficult to support because they have to continue to grow large enough to support new family members. At the same time, it’s important to have younger people go into farming given the average age of the American farmer is in the 60s.

Putnam’s also concerned about the future effect of government agencies, like the Food and Drug Administration, being unleashed and allowed to operate uninhibited.

On a more positive note, Putnam sees American farmers as more than capable of meeting the food needs of the emerging middle class in other countries.

Putnam said he doesn’t know Romney very well. But he sees a stark contrast between Romney and President Barack Obama and he views this upcoming election as "more consequential” than any in years.

Putnam asked those gathered Saturday to talk to the people in their sphere of influence and to let them know why they believe Romney is the right candidate.

Putnam said what "happens during the next 60 days will shape our nation for generations to come.”

Johnny Barnes said he wants Romney to not be ashamed he’s wealthy and he would like to see Romney emphasize his aptitude for running companies more.

"We are all business men,” he said.

Johnny Barnes said if they do not run their farms like businesses then they will be out of business. He also wants to see Romney play up his Hispanic heritage.

Barnes’ daughter, Bethany, graduated from North Carolina State University in May. She secured a degree in agriculture business management and is working in Raleigh. She plans to work outside the family business for a few years.

Bethany said her peers are conflicted and don’t know what to do in terms of voting. There’s a split because they apparently agree with Democrats on social issues but have more conservative leanings when it comes to economics.

There was some concerns expressed about whether Romney is overlooking young people as potential voters. There was some discussion about the need to elect people who will do what’s right for our country and not get caught up in party politics. Other issues discussed by the group included energy policies and the rising cost of fuel,

Other stops for Putnam on Saturday included Ham Produce Company in Snow Hill and Strickland Farms in Mount Olive.

creech@wilsontimes.com | 265-7822
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I said said...

These people talking about tobacco. Romney doesn't give a darn about tobacco. Have you forgotten that he is Mormon? And wanting him to play up his Hispanic heritage - are you kidding- he thinks he is better than the Hispanics and does not want to be put in the same league and them. He is ashamed of his heritage!

Thursday, September 13, 2012 at 11:21 AM
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