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ICYMI... Average age of all hired farm laborers is rising, driven by the aging of foreign-born farm laborers

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Between 2006 and 2017, the average age of hired farm laborers (excluding managers, supervisors, and other supporting occupations) has risen 8 percent—from 35.8 years to 38.8 years. This increase has been entirely driven by the aging of foreign-born farm laborers, who made up between 54 and 58 percent of the workforce over this period. Their average age rose 16 percent, from 35.7 in 2006 to 41.6 in 2017. In contrast, the average age of farm laborers born in the United States (including Puerto Rico) has remained roughly constant. The main reason for the aging of the foreign-born farm laborer population has been the decline (starting in 2008) in the flow of new immigrants, who tend to be younger. One response to the aging of the farm workforce has been to increase the use of mechanical aids, such as hydraulic platforms to replace ladders in orchards and mobile conveyor belts to reduce the distance that heavy loads must be carried in the fields. These changes may enable workers to prolong their careers, and may also make it easier for more women to work in agriculture. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Farm Labor, updated December 2018. It is also in the Amber Waves article, “U.S. Hired Farm Workforce Is Aging,” published in May 2019. This Chart of Note was originally published May 8, 2019.

ICYMI . . . Rising wages point to a tighter farm labor market in the United States

Thursday, September 19, 2019

In recent years, farmers, growers, and ranchers throughout the United States have expressed concerns about the challenges of hiring an adequate number of qualified farmworkers at an economically viable wage. A prominent indicator of a tighter farm labor market in the United States is the rising real (inflation-adjusted) wage for farmworkers. Between 2014 and 2018, the average hourly real wage for nonsupervisory hired farmworkers (in 2018 dollars) rose from $12.00 to $13.25, an increase of 10.4 percent. This increase in the real wage for farm labor is the fastest experienced over a 4-year period during the past two decades. Moreover, growth in farmworker wages was faster than growth in nonfarm wages. From 2014 to 2018, the hourly real wage for all nonsupervisory production workers outside agriculture rose from $21.90 to $22.97 (in 2018 dollars), an increase of 3.5 percent. Meanwhile, the farm wage rose from 54.8 percent of the nonfarm wage in 2014 to 58.5 percent in 2018. This chart is updated with newly released 2018 data and appears in the February 2019 Amber Waves Finding, “Rising Wages Point to a Tighter Farm Labor Market in the United States.” This Chart of Note was originally published March 4, 2019.

ICYMI... Smaller farms often rely on the principal operators and their spouses for labor, while larger farms rely on hired labor

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Farms of different sizes rely on different mixes of labor. During the 5 years encompassing 2013–2017, the principal operator and the operator’s spouse provided most of the labor hours (75 percent) used on small farms—those with annual gross cash farm income (GCFI) under $350,000. That share fell to 44 percent on midsize farms (GCFI between $350,000 and $999,999), 19 percent on large farms (GCFI between $1 million and $4,999,999), and 2 percent on very large farms (GCFI of $5 million or more). Large and very large farms relied most on hired labor, which provided 64 and 69 percent of the labor hours on those farms, respectively. By comparison, hired labor provided about 12 percent of labor hours on small farms and 39 percent on midsize farms. Small and midsized farms are more numerous, but account for less production overall. Overall, principal operators and their spouses provided 47 percent of the labor hours used on U.S. farms in 2013–17, while hired labor provided 35 percent, and other operators and other unpaid family labor provided another 9 percent of total hours, the same share as contract labor (workers employed by firms hired by the farm). Contract laborers were particularly important on very large farms, contributing over 27 percent of labor hours. This chart updates data found in the March 2018 ERS report, Three Decades of Consolidation in U.S. Agriculture. This Chart of Note was originally published April 15, 2019.

Women account for an increasing share of hired farm workforce

Friday, August 23, 2019

Errata: On August 26, 2019, the chart’s vertical axis labels were adjusted to accurately align with their corresponding horizontal lines.

The share of women farmworkers fell during the Great Recession—from 18.7 percent in 2007 to 17.6 percent in 2009—as the nonfarm economy declined and more men moved into agriculture. As nonfarm job prospects improved, however, many men left agriculture and the share of women farmworkers recovered and continued growing steadily, reaching 25.0 percent in 2017. This rising share may have been facilitated in part by labor-saving technologies that decreased the physical burdens placed on farmworkers. As wages rose, some growers adopted mechanical aids, such as hydraulic platforms (which replace ladders in tree-fruit harvesting) and mobile conveyor belts (which reduce the distance heavy loads must be carried). These aids may have allowed more women and older workers to perform tasks historically performed by younger men. The average age of all farmworkers also rose from 36.2 years in 2007 to 38.8 years in 2017. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Farm Labor, updated June 2019.

High rates of disability among farmers are concentrated in the South

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Farmers face various occupational hazards (such as machinery, livestock, and chemicals) that can lead to temporary or permanent disabilities. The U.S. Census Bureau defines disabilities as having at least one of the following health difficulties: vision, hearing, physical, cognitive, self-care (difficulty dressing or bathing), or independent living (difficulty performing errands, such as visits to the doctor’s office or shopping). Recent ERS research estimated that an average of about 20 percent of U.S. farmers (395,000 people) had a disability at some point between 2008 and 2016. The probability of disability among farmers increased with age but was lower for farmers who had higher education levels, were female (compared to male), or were married (compared to unmarried). The most common disabilities included physical (10 percent of farmers) and hearing (8 percent of farmers). Average disability rates varied by State. For example, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Iowa were in the quintile with the lowest disability rates on average (12.3 percent to 16.3 percent), while Louisiana, Alabama, and Tennessee were in that with the highest farmer disability rates (23.0 percent to 27.1 percent). This chart appears in the April 2019 Amber Waves finding, “Disabilities in the U.S. Farm Population.”

Average age of all hired farm laborers is rising, driven by the aging of foreign-born farm laborers

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Between 2006 and 2017, the average age of hired farm laborers (excluding managers, supervisors, and other supporting occupations) has risen 8 percent—from 35.8 years to 38.8 years. This increase has been entirely driven by the aging of foreign-born farm laborers, who made up between 54 and 58 percent of the workforce over this period. Their average age rose 16 percent, from 35.7 in 2006 to 41.6 in 2017. In contrast, the average age of farm laborers born in the United States (including Puerto Rico) has remained roughly constant. The main reason for the aging of the foreign-born farm laborer population has been the decline (starting in 2008) in the flow of new immigrants, who tend to be younger. One response to the aging of the farm workforce has been to increase the use of mechanical aids, such as hydraulic platforms to replace ladders in orchards and mobile conveyor belts to reduce the distance that heavy loads must be carried in the fields. These changes may enable workers to prolong their careers, and may also make it easier for more women to work in agriculture. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Farm Labor, updated December 2018. It is also in the Amber Waves article, “U.S. Hired Farm Workforce Is Aging,” published in May 2019.

Wage and salary employment in agriculture is most heavily distributed in the Far West and Southeastern United States

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Every region of the United States produces agricultural goods and employs farm workers for a variety of essential tasks. However, despite the ubiquity of agricultural production throughout the Nation, wage and salary employment in agriculture and related support services has been most concentrated in two parts of the United States: the Far West and the Southeast. From the late 1990s to 2006–08, reflecting changes in the total number of farmworkers at the national level, the Far West’s share dropped from 40 percent to 35 percent, and the Southeast’s share declined from 22 percent to 20 percent. By 2017, the Far West’s share had risen again to 40 percent, while the Southeast’s rebounded slightly to 21 percent. Between 2009 and 2017, farm labor employment grew from roughly 465,000 workers to 536,000 workers in the Far West and from 255,000 to 281,000 in the Southeast. The Far West and Southeast are leaders in farm labor employment partly due to the commodities they produce, including vegetable and melon farming, fruit and tree nut farming, and greenhouse, nursery, and floriculture production—commodities for which labor’s share of total operating expenses is highest. Conversely, oilseed and grain farming (typical in the Mideast, Great Lakes, and Plains) are among the least labor intensive in terms of share of operating expenses. This chart appears in the ERS report, Farm Labor Markets in the United States and Mexico Pose Challenges for U.S. Agriculture released in November 2018.

Smaller farms often rely on the principal operators and their spouses for labor, while larger farms rely on hired labor

Monday, April 15, 2019

Farms of different sizes rely on different mixes of labor. During the 5 years encompassing 2013–2017, the principal operator and the operator’s spouse provided most of the labor hours (75 percent) used on small farms—those with annual gross cash farm income (GCFI) under $350,000. That share fell to 44 percent on midsize farms (GCFI between $350,000 and $999,999), 19 percent on large farms (GCFI between $1 million and $4,999,999), and 2 percent on very large farms (GCFI of $5 million or more). Large and very large farms relied most on hired labor, which provided 64 and 69 percent of the labor hours on those farms, respectively. By comparison, hired labor provided about 12 percent of labor hours on small farms and 39 percent on midsize farms. Small and midsized farms are more numerous, but account for less production overall. Overall, principal operators and their spouses provided 47 percent of the labor hours used on U.S. farms in 2013–17, while hired labor provided 35 percent, and other operators and other unpaid family labor provided another 9 percent of total hours, the same share as contract labor (workers employed by firms hired by the farm). Contract laborers were particularly important on very large farms, contributing over 27 percent of labor hours. This chart updates data found in the March 2018 ERS report, Three Decades of Consolidation in U.S. Agriculture.

H2-A visas granted and positions certified have grown rapidly since 2005

Monday, April 1, 2019

Rising farm wages and recent reports from farmers point to a tightening farm labor market in the United States. Another sign of labor scarcity has been the increased use of the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Program, which provides a mechanism for growers to bring in nonimmigrant foreign workers on a temporary or seasonal basis. This increase is noteworthy in light of the costs associated with the program: State-level minimum wages for H-2A workers are set at the prevailing average farm wage as determined by the Farm Labor Survey, and growers must provide housing, as well as pay application, visa, and transportation costs. In addition, growers have long complained about the program’s bureaucratic complexity, and some have charged that its administrative processes often move too slowly for workers to arrive on time. Despite these concerns, the H-2A program has expanded rapidly in recent years, from about 48,300 positions certified in fiscal year (FY) 2005 to 200,000 in FY 2017. Data from the first three quarters of FY 2018 indicate that certifications were up 21 percent over the first three quarters of FY 2017. The number of H-2A visas granted is less than the number of H-2A positions certified because some visa recipients work in multiple H-2A positions, and some certified positions go unfilled. This chart appears in the ERS report, Farm Labor Markets in the United States and Mexico Pose Challenges for U.S. Agriculture, released in November 2018.

Rising wages point to a tighter farm labor market in the United States

Monday, March 4, 2019

In recent years, farmers, growers, and ranchers throughout the United States have expressed concerns about the challenges of hiring an adequate number of qualified farmworkers at an economically viable wage. A prominent indicator of a tighter farm labor market in the United States is the rising real (inflation-adjusted) wage for farmworkers. Between 2014 and 2018, the average hourly real wage for nonsupervisory hired farmworkers (in 2018 dollars) rose from $12.00 to $13.25, an increase of 10.4 percent. This increase in the real wage for farm labor is the fastest experienced over a 4-year period during the past two decades. Moreover, growth in farmworker wages was faster than growth in nonfarm wages. From 2014 to 2018, the hourly real wage for all nonsupervisory production workers outside agriculture rose from $21.90 to $22.97 (in 2018 dollars), an increase of 3.5 percent. Meanwhile, the farm wage rose from 54.8 percent of the nonfarm wage in 2014 to 58.5 percent in 2018. This chart is updated with newly released 2018 data and appears in the February 2019 Amber Waves Finding, “Rising Wages Point to a Tighter Farm Labor Market in the United States.”

Although farm wages have increased, labor costs as a share of farm gross cash income remained relatively flat

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Farm wages have risen since 2000, reaching an annual average of $13.32 per hour in 2017. However, farm labor costs as a share of farm gross cash income do not show an upward trend over 2000-16, as rising wage rates for farm workers have been offset by a number of factors, including rising labor productivity and output prices for some commodities. For all farms, labor costs averaged 10.1 percent of gross cash income in 2016, compared to 10.6 percent in 2000. For the more labor-intensive fruit, vegetable, and horticulture operations, labor costs in 2016 amounted to 26.7 percent of gross cash income, compared to 28.6 percent in 2000. For farms specializing in dairy, the labor cost share of gross cash income was 10.2 percent in 2016, compared to 9.5 percent in 2000. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Farm Labor, updated May 2018.

Hourly wages for hired farmworkers have grown steadily since 1989

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Hired farmworkers are found in a variety of occupations, including field crop workers, nursery workers, livestock workers, graders and sorters, agricultural inspectors, supervisors, and hired farm managers. Since 1989, the average hourly wage for hired farmworkers (excluding contract labor) has increased at almost 1 percent per year, after adjusting for inflation—reaching an annual average of $13.32 per hour in 2017. Wages grew by 3.7 percent in 2015 and 2.2 percent in 2016, but grew only 0.5 percent in 2017. Wage growth for nonsupervisory farmworkers was lower than the average for all hired farmworkers. In 2017, nonsupervisory farmworkers averaged $12.47 per hour, with little difference between crop and livestock wage rates. Higher demand for farm labor and a lower supply of immigrant labor since 2007 have contributed to rising wages. This chart appears in the ERS topic page for Farm Labor, updated May 2018.

Farming is important to the economies of many counties in the Plains States

Monday, January 11, 2016

ERS determined that farming was an important part of the local economy in 391 nonmetro counties and 53 metro counties, based on data on farming employment and earnings from the period 2010-12. These farming-dependent counties had at least 25 percent of average annual employee and self-proprietor personal earnings attributable to farming during 2010-12, or 16 percent or more of county jobs in farming in the same period, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The proportion of earnings derived from farming ranged up to 83 percent of total employee and self-proprietor personal earnings and farming employment ranged up to 49 percent of total jobs among farming-dependent counties. Farming-dependent counties were primarily located in sparsely populated areas remote from major urban centers and are geographically concentrated in the Midwest and Great Plains. ERS analysis reveals the total number of farming-dependent counties fell from 511 in 2001 to 444 in 2010-12, continuing its long-term decline. A version of this map is found in the Amber Waves article, “ERS County Economic Types Show a Changing Rural Landscape,” and the underlying codes may be found in the ERS data product, County Typology Codes, updated December 7, 2015.

New county patterns of U.S. Hispanic population change emerge

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Hispanic population growth has slowed in both rural (nonmetro) and urban (metro) areas of the United States since the Great Recession, due to lower fertility rates and a decline in immigration, especially from Mexico. These demographic trends, along with shifts in the location of job opportunities, shifted geographic patterns of Hispanic population growth and decline across rural counties. According to the latest U.S. Census estimates, rural population growth remains above 2 percent per year for Hispanics, higher than for the non-Hispanic population (which is declining), but less than half the rate of growth seen during the 1990s and early 2000s. This downturn is most visible in farming and ranching counties in the American Southwest and in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, areas that have for centuries had large Hispanic concentrations. Lower immigration contributed to this decrease, as did migration to new energy-sector jobs, most noticeable in the northern Great Plains in response to the shale oil and gas boom. Growth rates over 75 percent occurred in 79 rural counties, generally areas with few Hispanics in 2010 that added fewer than 10,000 new Hispanic residents as a whole. This map is based on the Atlas of Rural and Small Town America.

Editor's Pick: <br>Family farms dominate U.S. agriculture

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The United Nations has designated 2014 as the "International Year of Family Farming" to highlight the potential family farmers have to help feed the world. But what is a family farm? USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) defines family farms as those whose principal operator, and people related to the principal operator by blood or marriage, own most of the farm business. Under the ERS definition, family farms represent 97.6 percent of all U.S. farms and are responsible for 85 percent of U.S. farm production. Other definitions rely on who supplies the labor. Large farms often rely heavily on hired labor, but farm families who own the farm and provide most of the farm’s labor still account for 87.1 percent of U.S. farms, with 57.6 percent of farm production. Some farms also hire firms to perform some farm tasks. If we account for the labor provided by those firms, family farms that provide most of the labor used on the farm still account for 86.1 percent of farms and nearly half of production. This chart can be found in "Family Farming in the United States" in the March 2014 Amber Waves.

The distribution of beginning farms reflects local farm economies

Friday, December 19, 2014

In large part, the regional distribution of beginning farms mirrors that of all farms, but there are some differences. Beginning farms are located all across the country, but overall, the South is home to the largest percentage of beginning farms: 47 percent, which is about 5 percent higher than its share of all farms. The South also has the largest percentage of small beginning farms. Large-scale beginning farms are most likely to be in the Midwest, but with 30 percent of the nation’s beginning farms, the Midwest has fewer than its 37 percent share of all farms. The concentration of cash grain farms in the Midwest, which on average are larger than farms specializing in other types of commodities, not only explains the region’s higher shares of mid-size and large scale beginning farms, but may also explain the fact that fewer of its farms are operated by beginning farmers. This chart is found in the ERS topic page on Beginning & Disadvantaged Farmers, updated October 2014.

Family farms dominate U.S. agriculture

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The United Nations has designated 2014 as the "International Year of Family Farming" to highlight the potential family farmers have to help feed the world. But what is a family farm? USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) defines family farms as those whose principal operator, and people related to the principal operator by blood or marriage, own most of the farm business. Under the ERS definition, family farms represent 97.6 percent of all U.S. farms and are responsible for 85 percent of U.S. farm production. Other definitions rely on who supplies the labor. Large farms often rely heavily on hired labor, but farm families who own the farm and provide most of the farm’s labor still account for 87.1 percent of U.S. farms, with 57.6 percent of farm production. Some farms also hire firms to perform some farm tasks. If we account for the labor provided by those firms, family farms that provide most of the labor used on the farm still account for 86.1 percent of farms and nearly half of production. This chart can be found in "Family Farming in the United States" in the March 2014 Amber Waves.

Family farms dominate U.S. production of major field crops and hogs, poultry, eggs

Friday, March 28, 2014

Family farms—whether using the ERS definition based on majority ownership of the farm business or the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) definition based on the predominance of family-supplied labor—account for a large share of U.S. agricultural production. However, their relative production within commodity groups varies. Family farms were particularly important in the production of major field crops (corn, cotton, soybeans, and wheat), where they accounted for 62-96 percent of U.S. production in 2011, and in hogs, poultry, and eggs, where they accounted for 68-96 percent of production. Family farm production shares are lower in every major commodity category when focusing on the share of farms where the principal operator and spouse provide most of the labor used on the farm (the FAO standard). Large farms, often family owned but heavily reliant on hired farm labor and contract service providers, account for a large share of U.S. production, particularly in high-valued crops (fruit, nuts, vegetables, and nursery) and dairy. For example, family-owned and operated farms account for 75 percent of dairy production, but the operator and spouse usually provide less than half the labor on those farms. This chart can be found in “Family Farming in the United States” in the March 2014 Amber Waves.

Principal operators and their spouses provide most of the labor used on small and mid-sized family farms

Monday, March 10, 2014

The United Nations (UN) has designated 2014 the “International Year of Family Farming” with a primary focus on small farms that depend on a family for most labor. While farms in the United States are often much larger than the farms in developing countries that are the primary focus of the UN’s efforts, most U.S. farms are family businesses that rely primarily on family labor. Large U.S. family farms are more likely to rely on partners and on hired and contract labor than smaller farms, so the share of labor provided by the principal operator and spouse falls as farms get larger. On average, a farm’s principal operator and spouse contribute more than 50 percent of the farm’s labor until farm sales reach $1 million or more. That share is an average of 42 percent for farms with $1-$5 million in sales, and falls to 21 percent among farms with $5 million or more in sales. Farms reliant primarily on the labor of the operator and spouse account for nearly half of U.S. farm production. This chart can be found in “Family Farming in the United States” in the March 2014 Amber Waves.

Agriculture and its related industries provide 9.2 percent of U.S. employment

Friday, January 3, 2014

In 2012, 16.5 million full- and part-time jobs were related to agriculture—about 9.2 percent of total U.S. employment. Direct on-farm employment provided over 2.6 million of these jobs. Employment in the related industries supported another 13.9 million jobs. Of this number, food services and drinking places accounted for the largest share—10.8 million jobs—and food manufacturing supported 1.5 million jobs. The remaining agriculture-related industries together supported another 1.5 million jobs. This chart appears in ERS’s data product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, on the ERS website.

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