What the Ag Census Has to Say About Farm Labor

Katelyn Walley, Business Management Specialist and Team Leader
Southwest New York Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops Program

March 20, 2024

Hired Farm Labor

This is part of Katelyn Walley's 2022 Ag Census Deep Dive. View our website for additional topics. 

26% of farms in NYS utilize hired labor on their farms, and 4% work with migrant/contract labor. In total, 56,678 hired farm workers received $1.2 Billion in payroll in 2022.

The Ag Census counts Hired Farm Labor and collects data on the number of farms with hired labor, the total number of hired farm workers, and the total payroll paid for hired labor. Separately, the number of farms with migrant or contract labor and the total number of migrant workers is also collected. Farms can have both migrant and hired labor, and migrant labor is not included in the total payroll paid nor number of hired farm workers. Many farms also rely on unpaid farm labor that is typically performed by family members, and the ag census collects that data as well (although, it's not included here).

In general, New York State has 56,678 hired farm workers and 12,466 migrant workers who performed some extent of labor in 2022. 26% of farms utilize hired labor, which means 74% do not pay for outside labor. Only 4% of farms utilize migrant labor in New York State. Also of note, the total dollars paid for farm labor payroll increased by 51%, to over 1 Billion dollars, in NYS from 2017 to 2022. In spite of this large increase, the total number of hired farm workers only increased by 2% over that same time period. This is a payroll increase of 33% per hired farm worker, likely due to competitive salaries, minimum wage increases, and new overtime regulations.

Southwest New York Region: Even fewer farms utilize hired labor in the SWNY region. 22% of farms in SWNY, as compared to NYS's 26%, had hired labor for a total of 1,102 farms in 2022. This is a decrease of 14% from 2017 when 1,274 farms had hired labor. The number of hired farm workers decreased by 7% to 6,415, and the total number of migrant workers decreased by 31% to 472 workers total. 120 farms in SWNY utilized contract labor in 2022. Overall payroll paid in SWNY in 2022 increased by 30% to a total of $113 million.  

 

Allegany County: The Ag Census counts the number of farms with hired labor, the number of hired farmworkers, total payroll, and the number of migrant workers in the county. In 2022, Allegany County had 103 farms hire 440 farm workers for a total hired farm labor payroll of $8.1 million. 15% of Allegany County farms utilize hired farm labor. From 2017 to 2022, 29% fewer farms had 34% fewer hired farm workers but a total payroll increase of 30%. 5 farms hired 15 migrant workers.

 

Cattaraugus County: The Ag Census counts the number of farms with hired labor, the number of hired farmworkers, total payroll, and the number of migrant workers in the county. In 2022, Cattaraugus County had 145 farms hire 762 farm workers for a total hired farm labor payroll of $11.5 million. 17% of Cattaraugus County farms utilize hired farm labor. From 2017 to 2022, 9% fewer farms had 24% fewer hired farm workers but a total payroll increase of 26%. 2 farms hired an undisclosed number of migrant workers.

 

Chautauqua County: The Ag Census counts the number of farms with hired labor, the number of hired farmworkers, total payroll, and the number of migrant workers in the county. In 2022, Chautauqua County had 320 farms hire 2,070 farm workers for a total hired farm labor payroll of $37.5 million. 25% of Chautauqua County farms utilize hired farm labor. From 2017 to 2022, 16% fewer farms had 11% fewer hired farm workers but a total payroll increase of 98%. 70 farms hired 218 migrant workers.

 

Erie County: The Ag Census counts the number of farms with hired labor, the number of hired farmworkers, total payroll, and the number of migrant workers in the county. In 2022, Erie County had 237 farms hire 1,799 farm workers for a total hired farm labor payroll of $37 million. 26% of Erie County farms utilize hired farm labor. From 2017 to 2022, 7% fewer farms had 2% fewer hired farm workers but a total payroll increase of 38%. 22 farms hired 173 migrant workers.

 

Steuben County: The Ag Census counts the number of farms with hired labor, the number of hired farmworkers, total payroll, and the number of migrant workers in the county. In 2022, Steuben County had 297 farms hire 1,344 farm workers for a total hired farm labor payroll of $19 million. 22% of Steuben County farms utilize hired farm labor. From 2017 to 2022, 11% fewer farms had 9% fewer hired farm workers but a total payroll increase of 6%. 21 farms hired 66 migrant workers.

 

What it means: Many farms across the state do not utilize outside labor and instead rely on unpaid family labor to compensate. Additionally, farms are choosing to scale up and incorporate technology to be more efficient with labor, or scale back to a more manageable size and avoid hiring labor. With rising payroll costs, new overtime thresholds, and a more competitive labor market, farms are facing a labor crisis, and we're already starting to see those changes from the 2017 to the 2022 ag census. 26% of farms in NYS utilize hired labor and hired 56,678 workers and paid $1 Billion in payroll in 2022. 




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