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Big 5 ag sectors pay most farm wages, led by crop support services

November 27, 2017

The Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) collects employment and earnings data on workers covered by Unemployment Insurance, which means practically all farm workers in states such as California and Washington and 81 percent of US farm workers. QCEW data on farm workers are available by detailed commodity, and are released soon after employers pay UI taxes on their workers’ wages.

[url=https://www.bls.gov/opub/hom/pdf/homch5.pdf]Federal law has since 1978 required farms employing 10 or more workers for 20 weeks in a year, or paying $20,000 in wages in a quarter, to register and pay UI taxes on their employees’ wages[/url]. Some states including California require smaller farm employers to register and pay UI taxes. [url=https://www.bls.gov/cew/cewbultncur.htm#Employment]BLS estimated that average employment in US agriculture (NAICS 11) was 1.6 million in 2016, including 81 percent covered by the UI system[/url].

In 2016, some 103,430 US farm establishments (NAICS 11) paid $42 billion to an average 1.3 million workers employed in agriculture, forestry, and fishing, making the average annual pay of a full-time equivalent worker $33,300.

California accounted for a third of agricultural wages and average employment: 16,150 California agricultural establishments paid $13.7 billion to an average 424,000 full-time equivalent workers, making the average annual pay of a full-time equivalent worker $32,300. Washington accounted for eight percent of US farm employment: 7,500 Washington agricultural establishments paid $3.1 billion to an average 105,000 full-year workers, making the average annual pay of a full-time equivalent worker $29,700.

Other states have smaller shares of QCEW agricultural employment and wages. Some 4,900 Florida agricultural establishments paid $2.2 billion to an average 73,600 full-year workers in 2016, making the average annual pay of a full-time equivalent worker $29,500. Some 10,100 Texas agricultural establishments paid $2.1 billion to an average 59,900 full-year workers, making the average annual pay of a full-time equivalent worker $34,500.

Florida and Texas exempt smaller farm employers from covering their workers with UI. In Florida, farms employing six or more workers for 20 weeks in a year, or paying at least $10,000 in wages in a quarter, must register and pay UI taxes, while in Texas farms employing three or more workers for 20 weeks in a year, or paying at least $6,250 in wages in a quarter, must register. This means that less than 100 percent of farm workers are included in the Florida and Texas data.

The NAICS includes five major subsectors, crops (NACIS 111), animals (112), forestry and logging (113), fishing and hunting (114), and support services for agriculture (115). Almost 95 percent of UI covered agricultural employment (NAICS 11) is in crops, animals, and crop support. In 2016, some 9.300 US forestry establishments paid $2.5 billion to an average 56,700 full-year workers, making the average annual pay of a full-time equivalent worker $44,500. Some 2,600 US fishery establishments paid $524 million to an average 8,100 full-year workers, making the average annual pay of a full-time equivalent worker $65,000.

Within crop, animal, and crop support agriculture, five of the 20 detailed commodities account for two thirds of US agricultural wages paid and over 90 percent of agricultural wages in California: vegetables, fruits and nuts, greenhouses and nurseries, dairies, and crop support services.

The single largest sector is crop support services, accounting for a quarter of US agricultural wages paid in 2016 and almost half of farm wages paid in California. Within crop support services, labor contractors loom large, accounting for over 40 percent of US crop support service wage payments and 55 percent in California.

California accounts for a third of US agricultural wages paid in 2016 and almost half of the wages paid in the Big 5 commodities. The California share is especially high for farm labor contractor wages: California accounted for 83 percent of all UI-covered FLC wages. California also accounted for 58 percent of fruit and nut wages paid, 41 percent of vegetable wages paid, and 20 percent of dairy wages paid.

Big 5 UI-Covered Agricultural Wages Paid 2016
  NAICS US($ bil) Share CA($ bil) Share CA share of US
Vegetables 1112 3.2 8% 1.3 9% 41%
Fruits & Nuts 1113 5.5 13% 3.2 23% 58%
Greenhouse 1114 4.7 11% 1 7% 21%
Dairy 11212 3.5 8% 0.7 5% 20%
Crop Support 11511 10 24% 6.4 47% 64%
FLCs 115115 4.2 10% 3.5 26% 83%
Big 5 subtotal 26.9 64% 12.6 92% 47%
All agriculture 11 41.9 100% 13.7 100% 33%
Source: https://www.bls.gov/cew/
BLS estimates that these data cover 81 percent of US farm worker employment
California data include all hired farm workers