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California Agricultural Employment in 2020
August 27, 2020
California’s Employment Development Department reported that agricultural employment in 2020 was 20 to 30 percent lower than in 2019, with the largest drop in June 2020. All farm employers with 250 or more workers are asked to report their employment for the payroll period that includes the 12th of the month; a sample of smaller employers provide employment data.
Agricultural employment was 20 to 30 percent lower in 2020 than in 2019
The reductions in agricultural employment varied by county. Agricultural employment in Fresno county was down five percent in spring and summer 2020 compared the same period of 2019, down 25 to 35 percent in Kern county, and down 35 to 45 percent in Monterey county.
Agricultural employment down slightly in Fresno county in 2020, but down significantly in Kern and Monterey counties
There are several reasons for lower agricultural employment, including the Covid-19 pandemic that closed restaurants and reduced the demand for some farm commodities and some farm employers not reporting farm employment data or reporting late. Some farm accounting offices are closed, making it hard to prepare and submit employment data and difficult for EDD to contact employers who do not report employment data in a timely fashion. Some employers are paying employment taxes but not reporting farm employment.
Comparing commodity shipments for lettuce, strawberries and other commodities suggests that the volume of fresh produce shipped in 2020 is similar to earlier years, which should mean a similar level of farm employment. Demand for produce from food service outlets such as restaurants and cafeterias fell in 2020, but demand for produce in supermarkets rose in 2020 compared to 2019.
The volume of iceberg lettuce shipped in 2020 (blue) was lower in March-April 2020 than in 2019 (red) and 2018 (green), and higher in June 2020
Iceberg lettuce prices were higher in May 2020 than in May 2019, but lower in June 2020
US shipments of fruit through July 2020 were 11 percent lower than in the first seven months of 2019, with a wide variance by commodity. For example, blueberry shipments were up over 20 percent, while strawberry shipments were down almost 20 percent. US vegetable shipments were up six percent through July 2020 compared to 2019, with lettuce about the same in 2020 as in 2019 and round tomatoes down almost 40 percent. However, round tomato imports were up over 80 percent.
California fruits and vegetables are at different stages of completing their 2020 harvests. For example, more of 2020’s berries were shipped to market by July 2020 than tree fruits and melons. Shipments of berries and tree fruits through mid-July 2020 were higher than in the same period of 2019, while shipments of melons were lower. Similarly, shipments of most fresh vegetables were higher through mid-July 2020 than in the same period of 2019.
Shipment data suggest that agricultural employment in 2020 may be similar to 2019 levels after EDD revises farm employment upward as more employers submit data. Some workers employed by labor contractors report fewer hours of work in 2020 than they had in 2019 because larger crews are dividing less work, but there are no data to determine if such a pattern is widespread.
California shipments of berries and tree fruits were higher through July 2020 than in 2019, while shipments of melons were lower
California shipments of most leafy green vegetables were higher through July 2020 than in 2019
DOL certified 23,321 jobs in California to be filled by H-2A workers in FY19. The H-2A program in California follows two rules of two thirds:
Two-thirds of H-2A Jobs Certified in California in FY19 were in 6 Counties
During the first six months of FY20, the same six counties accounted for two-thirds of H-2A jobs certified. As in FY19, FLCs accounted for 90 percent of the jobs certified in Monterey county and less than half of the jobs certified in Imperial county. During the third quarter of FY20, Monterey, Santa Barbara, and Fresno counties accounted for over half of H-2A jobs certified.
Job certification data emphasize that most H-2A workers are in coastal counties with high-value commodities and high housing costs. Imperial county is on the Mexico-US border, where frequent Border Patrol checks of buses carrying farm workers encourage employers to hire legal workers.
H-2A Jobs Certified in the first half of FY20 (October 2019-March 2020)
Monterey and Santa Barbara counties had the most jobs certified to be filled with H-2A workers in FY20