U.S. agricultural labor statistics for winter 2008

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, broken down by regions. This article is based on theNASS release of February 15, 2008, and the data describe the situation during the week of January 6-12, 2008. 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 (www.usda.gov/nass/). Select “Publications” and then “Reports Calendar” or “Publications” and then “Search,” by “Title” or “Subject” (Farm Labor).

Due to budget constraints, the January 2007 Farm Labor Survey was not conducted. Therefore, comparisons to the previous year are not available in this report. Comparisons to 2006 are provided where appropriate.

During the survey week, the total number of hired workers is estimated at 778,000 individuals; that’s down from 794,000 individuals in 2006. In the reference week, 599,000 individuals were hired directly by farm operators. The average number of hours worked stood at 38.4, similar to 2006 with 38.2 hours.

The average wage rate was $10.77 per hour, compared to $10.10 two years ago. Field workers received $9.64, compared to $9.11 two years ago. Livestock workers earned $10.19, compared to $9.26 two years ago. Last October’s wage rate for livestock workers has been revised to $10.02 and the overall wage rate to $10.38 per hour. These wage rates do not include the value of benefits.

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 subgroups, depending on what the employee was primarily hired to do, 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 33.1 hours during the survey week, compared to 37.8 hours two years ago. The total number of workers, excluding agricultural service workers, is estimated at 40,000 individuals. The average wage rate for all hired workers, including supervisors and other workers was $11.72 per hour, which is second only to Hawaii with $13.04. Two years ago the average wage in the Lake region was $10.73 per hour. In this year’s reference week, field workers earned $10.93 and livestock workers earned $10.67 per hour.

In addition to analyzing wage rates by type of worker, NASS provides wage data by type of farm with slightly different results. These data combine field workers and livestock workers, but exclude the other, typically higher paid, subgroups. The average hourly wage rates in 48 states, excluding Alaska and Hawaii, during this January were $9.87 overall, $9.79 for field crops, $9.68 for other crops, and $10.09 for livestock and poultry. Two years ago those rates were $9.19, $9.39, $8.90, and $9.50, respectively.

This January’s survey week, the hourly wage rates in the Lake region were $10.75 for all farms, $8.81 for field crops, $11.75 for other crops, and $10.47 for livestock and poultry farms ­excluding supervisors and other workers. On average, the Lake region was paying the third highest wages of all regions (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) overall during the survey week. Higher wages were paid in the Northern Plains (Kansas, Nebraska, North and South Dakota) with $11.15 and in the Cornbelt (Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Ohio) with $10.88. Wages were highest for other crop farms in the Lake region. Two years ago the wages in the Lake region were $9.69 for all farms, $9.42 for livestock and poultry farms, and $10.53 for other crops farms. For statistical reasons, crop farm wages were not available in 2006.

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.Contact Dr. Bitsch at mbitsch@msu.edu or visit her website at http://www.msu.edu/user/bitsch

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