U.S. agricultural labor statistics for summer 2010

Editor’s note: This article is from the archives of the MSU Crop Advisory Team Alerts. Check the label of any pesticide referenced to ensure your use is included.

Each quarter, the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture releases farm labor statistics for the national level and broken down by regions. This newsletter is based on the NASS release of August 19, 2010, and the data describe the situation during the week of July 11-17, 2010. While the data is considered reliable at the national level, data of individual regions often have a higher margin of error. In a time, when agricultural employers are looking for benchmarks to base their decisions on, this is the most current and comprehensive data available. For more details, the complete release is available at the NASS website (http://www.nass.usda.gov/). Select “Find NASS Publications” by “Title” or “Keyword” (Farm Labor).

During the survey week, the total number of hired workers is estimated at 1,244,000 individuals; that is down 1 percent from a year ago. In the reference week, 894,000 of these individuals were hired directly by farm operators. The average number of hours worked stood at 41.0, up 3 percent from a year ago.

The largest increases in the number of hired workers compared to last year occurred in California, and in the Northern Plains (Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota) Corn Belt II (Iowa and Missouri), Appalachian I (North Carolina and Virginia), and Mountain II (Colorado, Nevada and Utah) regions. Above normal winter precipitation had provided California with more irrigation water, which allowed for more acreage. In the Northern Plains and Mountain II regions drier weather than during last year’s reference week allowed field activities to progress. Cattle and poultry producers were hiring, in the Corn Belt II region. The Appalachian I region reported higher demand from the tobacco, vegetable and fruit industries.

The largest decreases in the number of hired workers compared to last year occurred in the Lake (Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin), Southern Plains (Oklahoma and Texas), Corn Belt I (Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio), Delta (Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi), and Appalachian II (Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia) regions. In the Lake, Corn Belt I, and Appalachian II regions, wetter conditions than during last year’s reference week delayed field work. Heavy rains and flooding again caused problems in the Southern Plains. In the Delta region, reduced demand came from the nursery and greenhouse industries.

The trend of rising wages has picked up again. Hired worker wage rates were above a year ago in most regions. The largest increases in wage rates occurred in the Northern Plains, Northeast II (Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania), Corn Belt I and Southeast (Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina) regions. The average wage rate was $10.82 per hour, up 16 cent from a year earlier. Field workers received $10.12, up eight cents from last July. Livestock workers made $10.19, compared to $10.05 a year ago. These wage rates do not include the value of benefits. Increases were caused by a lower proportion of part-time workers, in the Northern Plains, Corn Belt I and Southeast regions, and due to a higher proportion of equine workers in the Northeast II region.

Hired workers include anyone, other than an agricultural service worker, who was paid for at least one hour of agricultural work on a farm or ranch. Worker type is determined by what the employee was primarily hired to do. Worker types are field workers, livestock workers, supervisors, and other workers (e.g., bookkeepers and pilots).

Field workers are employees engaged in planting, tending and harvesting crops, including operation of farm machinery on crop farms.

Livestock workers are employees tending livestock, milking cows, or caring for poultry, including operation of farm machinery on livestock or poultry operations.

Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin make up the Lake region. For the three states, the number of hours worked stood at 34.4 hours during the survey week, compared to 34.6 hours last year. The total number of workers, excluding agricultural service workers, is estimated at 64,000 individuals, compared 76,000 during last year’s reference week. The average wage rate for all hired workers, including supervisors and other workers was $11.10 per hour. A year ago the average wage in the Lake region was $11.04 per hour. In this year’s reference week, field workers earned $11.09, livestock workers earned $9.47 per hour, compared to $10.55 and $10.27, respectively, last year.

The lower number of individuals employed in this quarter’s reference week, causes higher average wages, due to a lower number of seasonal, typically lower paid employees. Overall, the Lake region is in the top third of the wage distribution in this quarter with a wage average of 19 cents above the U.S. average. Wages have fallen below average for livestock workers by 72 cents, but are in the top three regions for field workers, 97 cents above the U.S. average.

In addition to analyzing wage rates by type of worker, NASS provides wage data by type of farm for ten regions with slightly different results. These data combine field workers and livestock workers, but exclude the other, typically higher paid, subgroups. Farm types include field crop farms, other crop farms and livestock or poultry farms.

The average hourly wage rates in 48 states, excluding Alaska and Hawaii; during this July’s reference week were $10.14 overall, $10.17 for field crop farms, $10.05 for other crop farms, and $10.28 for livestock and poultry farms. Last year those rates were $10.04, $10.16, $10.05, and $9.95, respectively. Thus, wage rates for the 48 states show slight increases, except for livestock and poultry farms where wages have increased more, making up for their slowdown last quarter.

During the July reference week, the hourly wage rates in the Lake region were $10.45 for all farms, $11.14 for field crop farms, $11.36 for other crop farms, and $9.20 for livestock and poultry farms – excluding supervisors and other workers. During last year’s reference week, the wages in the Lake region were $10.45 for all farms, $11.57 for field crop farms, $10.50 for other crop farms, and $10.07 for livestock and poultry farms. In conclusion, wages in the Lake region by type of farm are lower than last year for most groups, except other crop farms with an increase of 86 cents. The overall average by type of farm has stayed flat.

A farm or ranch is defined as a place that sells, or would normally sell, at least $1,000 worth of agricultural products during the year.
Field crop farms are farms producing wheat, rice, corn, soybeans, barley, dry beans, rye, sorghum, cotton, popcorn, tobacco or other such crops.

Other crops are farms producing vegetables, melons, berry crops, grapes, tree nuts, citrus fruits, deciduous trees fruits, avocados, dates, figs, olives, nursery or greenhouse crops. This category also includes farms producing potatoes, sugar crops, hay, peanuts, hops, mint and maple syrup.

Livestock or poultry are farms producing cattle, hogs, sheep, goats, milk, chicken, eggs, turkeys, or animal specialties such as furs, fish, honey, etc.

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