Cullman County is recognized as the state’s top agricultural community, a distinction that some farmers believe will be in jeopardy if the Alabama’s tough immigration law takes effect Sept. 1.
“Those guys making those laws say they are doing it to help the people. That’s bull. They’re just after the majority support,” said Keith Smith, a lifetime farmer on Gold Ridge Road.
Smith, who was a candidate last year for a county commission seat, said he has heard both sides of the immigration issue and believes a solution would be to allow visiting workers to buy a work permit. He said without the migrant workers, farms will be in deep trouble.
“They (politicians) say they are putting Alabamians back to work, but that won’t happen. Few people want to do this work. We pay minimum wage and more, depending on how much the workers accomplish. I know one thing, if I was depending on American workers I couldn’t do what I do,” Smith said.
Smith has more than 150 acres of sweet potatoes in the fields in Cullman County. He also has poultry houses, hay, and other row crops. Like many farmers, he leases additional land for crop production outside of Cullman County.
“This is all I’ve ever done,” said Smith, 54. “I grew up farming. I worked hauling hay and whatever needed to be done. But things have changed. Without the migrant workers, who are mostly Hispanic, you wouldn’t be able to make a living farming.”
Brian Kress, whose farm is located near Alabama Highway 157 in Cullman County, said he attended a meeting with state senators and representatives recently in Madison County to discuss the immigration law’s potential impact on farms. He left with the impression that most of the politicians don’t understand the farming issue.
“It’s (immigration law) going to shut down agriculture as you know it,” Kress said. “That’s not what we think, that’s what we know. It’s going to affect everything — cotton, sweet potatoes, poultry.”
* Read more in the Sunday, Aug. 28, 2011, print or e-edition of The Cullman Times.