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Strengthening U.S. Farm Labor through Surveys

Posted by Jody McDaniel, Environmental, Economics, and Demographics Branch Chief, National Agricultural Statistics Service in USDA Results Conservation
Feb 21, 2017
Farmers can help ensure there is enough agricultural labor in the United States at critical times in the production cycles by taking part in the Agricultural Labor survey.
Farmers can help ensure there is enough agricultural labor in the United States at critical times in the production cycles by taking part in the Agricultural Labor survey.

Throughout the course of the year, hired labor makes planting and harvesting of America’s farmland possible. On my family’s Illinois farm, we relied on both paid and unpaid friends and family to bring in our hay.   Nearby farmers however relied on seasonal migrant labor to harvest vegetables. 

Today I’m a statistician overseeing the analyses and publication of environmental, economic and demographic data on U.S. agriculture.  In that role, my team produces data on farm labor that provides the basis for employment and wage estimates for all farm workers directly hired by U.S. farms.  It is also used by the U.S. Department of Labor to administer the H-2A agricultural guest worker program. 

The H-2A program allows farmers and ranchers to hire foreign guest workers for seasonal jobs critical to American agriculture.  Agricultural labor is defined as any activity performed on a farm in connection with production of agricultural commodities. The Department of Labor relies on the data we provide to monitor labor demands in the farming sector at key points during the year. They can then make decisions related to the supply of guest workers to meet reported labor demands.  And this is where our farm labor surveys comes in.

We reach out to farmers and ranchers to conduct an agricultural labor survey twice each year in April and October. In the past, we collected the data four times a year, once per quarter.  Several years ago we combined the quarters and began collecting data only twice a year. With this approach, we were able to reduce both costs and demands on the survey participants, while still collecting and publishing quarterly information. Currently, the April survey collects data for a specific week in January and April, and the October survey collects data for a specific week in July and October. Data is collected for the week containing the 12th of each month.

One of the easiest ways for farmers to help ensure there is enough agricultural labor in the United States at critical times in the production cycles is to take part in the Agricultural Labor survey. So I ask all farmers who receive the survey form in a few weeks to take the time to fill it out. Only with accurate data can farmers, ranchers, policymakers and others make decisions that help the farm businesses and strengthen U.S. agriculture.

Category/Topic: USDA Results Conservation

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Comments

Frank Gasperini
Sep 21, 2016

Jody,

We are concerned that the salary surveys, whose results are are eventually used to determine the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AWER), are not do not distinguish between regular hourly rates, Overtime, Incentive Pay, and Bonus. We have talked with OFLC (USDOL) about this, USDA/NASS does the surveys--- but it is my understanding that the survey format and questions are determined by DOL. DOL says USDA does the survey. Can you help me understand who would be the proper office/person to talk to about the Overtime issue?

NCAE is the National Trade Association representing Agricultural Employers, our Members and direct contacts are the employers of 50% or more of all H-2A workers in the US.

You may contact me by return email or by phone.

Thanks
Frank Gasperini
Executive VP/CEO for NCAE