Texas Agriculture and Labor
May 16, 2022
Texas has more farms, 248,400 in the 2017 COA, and more cattle, over 12 million, than any other state. Texas farm sales were $25 billion in 2017, including $18 billion from livestock and $7 billion from crops. The 3,400 Texas farms with annual sales of $1 million or more, 1.4 percent of the state’s farms, accounted for three-fourths of Texas farm sales.
Texas has 254 counties, and the state is divided into 10 agricultural districts, some with north and south sub-districts. The largest counties by area are in the state’s southwest; Brewster with 6,200 square miles is the largest, followed by Pecos with 4,800 square miles.
Texas has 254 counties and 10 agricultural districts
The leading commodities by sales were cattle and calves worth $12.3 billion in 2017 or half of total farm sales, followed by broiler chickens worth $1.9 billion and milk worth $2.1 billion. The leading crops were cotton worth $2.6 billion from five million acres, corn worth $1.1 billion from 2.2 million acres, nursery products worth $0.8 billion, sorghum worth $0.5 billion, and fruits and vegetables worth $0.6 billion.
Cattle sales accounted for half of Texas’s $25 billion in farm sales in 2017
COA Table 12 reported that Texas had 153,000 cattle farms with 12.6 million head of cattle in 2017, including 203 farms that each had 5,000 or more cows and a total of 3.8 million or 30 percent of the state’s total herd. Texas had 4.6 million beef cattle, 532,000 milk cows, and 7.5 million other animals, including 730,000 sheep and 840,000 goats.
Texas has a rising number of cattle farms, 153,000 in 2017, a shrinking number of dairies, under 500, a shrinking number of hog farms, fewer than 6,000, and a rising number of sheep farms, almost 15,000. Some 230,000 sheep were shorn in Texas in 2019, when the average fleece weighed 7.4 pounds and was worth about $15, generating 1.7 million pounds of wool worth $1.90 a pound.
230,000 Texas sheep were sheared in 2019
|Year||Number of Sheep Shorn||Weight per Fleece||Wool Production||Price per Pound||Value of Production|
On January 1, 2020, some three million cattle were being fattened in Texas feed lots that each had 1,000 or more head of cattle. There were 735,000 sheep and lambs worth an average $183 each on Texas farms, and another 765,000 goats on January 1, 2020.
Texas is a large state with 127 million acres of farm land, including 88 million acres of pasture and range land. There were 29.4 million acres of crop land in 2017, but only 18 million acres were harvested, including all of the 4.4 million acres of irrigated crop land.
The 4,000 largest Texas farms, those with 5,000 acres or more, had 63 million acres or half of Texas farm land. These 4,000 farms also had 4.7 million acres or a quarter of the state’s harvested crop land and 1.3 million or 30 percent of the state’s irrigated land. Fewer than 4,000 of the state’s almost 250,000 farms, less than two percent, account for most Texas’s farm land and farm sales.
Labor. COA Table 4 reported that 51,000 Texas farms, about 20 percent of the state’s farms, had $1.7 billion in expenses for hired farm labor in 2017. Another 28,000 farms (often the same farms that hired workers directly) reported $290 million in contract labor expenses, for total farm labor expenses of $2 billion for hired farm workers. The 2,800 farms that each had $100,000 or more in farm labor expenses accounted for two-thirds of total direct hire labor expenses, and the 1,000 farms (often the same farms) with $50,000 or more in contract labor expenses accounted for 44 percent of total contract labor expenses.
Labor expense data suggest that fewer than 3,000 Texas farms, six percent of the 51,000 Texas farms with labor expenses, account for most of Texas farm labor expenses.
COA Table 7 reported that 51,000 farms hired 144,000 workers directly in 2017, and the 1,500 farms that each hired 10 or more workers directly hired a total of 37,400, accounting for 26 percent of workers hired. Most of the workers who were hired directly were seasonal, 85,000, compared with 57,000 workers who were employed on the responding farm 150 days or more. The COA asks farmers if their workers were migrants, and 1,300 Texas farms reported hiring 4,500 migrants directly in 2017.
Some 51,000 Texas farms reported hiring 144,000 workers directly in 2017 and paying them $1.7 billion
|Hired farm labor|
|Farms with 1 worker ............ farms||22,588||155||9||69||3|
|Farms with 1 worker ............ workers||22,588||155||9||69||3|
|Farms with 2 workers ............ farms||13,386||119||12||57||8|
|Farms with 2 workers ............ workers||26,772||238||24||114||16|
|Farms with 3 or 4 workers ............ farms||8,987||51||9||24||3|
|Farms with 3 or 4 workers ............ workers||30,347||171||28||77||(D)|
|Farms with 5 to 9 workers ............ farms||4,399||23||2||9||1|
|Farms with 5 to 9 workers ............ workers||26,619||130||(D)||(D)||(D)|
|Farms with 10 workers or more ............ farms||1,532||9||1||1||-|
|Farms with 10 workers or more ............ workers||37,437||167||(D)||(D)||-|
|Workers who worked 150 days or more|
|Farms with 1 worker ............ farms||11,780||64||5||41||-|
|Farms with 1 worker ............ workers||11,780||64||5||41||-|
|Farms with 2 workers ............ farms||5,143||33||8||24||4|
|Farms with 2 workers ............ workers||10,286||66||16||48||8|
|Farms with 3 or 4 workers ............ farms||2,924||10||5||5||1|
|Farms with 3 or 4 workers ............ workers||9,742||34||(D)||(D)||(D)|
|Farms with 5 to 9 workers ............ farms||1,230||5||1||2||1|
|Farms with 5 to 9 workers ............ workers||7,468||28||(D)||(D)||(D)|
|Farms with 10 workers or more ............ farms||675||4||-||-||-|
|Farms with 10 workers or more ............ workers||19,430||101||-||-||-|
|Workers who worked less than 150 days|
|Farms with 1 worker ............ farms||18,410||123||8||55||3|
|Farms with 1 worker ............ workers||18,410||123||8||55||3|
|Farms with 2 workers ............ farms||9,485||92||5||40||4|
|Farms with 2 workers ............ workers||18,970||184||10||80||8|
|Farms with 3 or 4 workers ............ farms||6,088||41||5||16||2|
|Farms with 3 or 4 workers ............ workers||20,359||135||(D)||59||(D)|
|Farms with 5 to 9 workers ............ farms||2,438||18||1||1||-|
|Farms with 5 to 9 workers ............ workers||14,385||96||(D)||(D)||-|
|Farms with 10 workers or more ............ farms||685||3||-||1||-|
|Farms with 10 workers or more ............ workers||12,933||30||-||(D)||-|
|Reported only workers working 150 days or more|
|Reported only workers working less than 150 days|
|Reported both - workers working 150 days or more and workers less than 150 days|
|150 days or more ............ workers||23,717||95||10||41||-|
|Less than 150 days ............ farms||7,966||36||5||25||-|
|Less than 150 days ............ workers||25,589||124||15||48||-|
|Less than 150 days ............ $1,000 payroll||667,971||2,741||218||286||-|
|Total migrant workers|
|Migrant farm labor on farms with hired labor ............ farms||1,256||2||2||2||-|
|Migrant farm labor on farms with hired labor ............ workers||4,554||(D)||(D)||(D)||-|
|Migrant farm labor on farms reporting only contract labor ............ farms||354||2||-||-||-|
|Migrant farm labor on farms reporting only contract labor ............ workers||840||(D)||-||-||-|
Estimates prepared for the National Center for Farmworker Health report a higher number of workers than the Census of Agriculture data, even though the COA double counts workers employed on two or more farms. The NCFH estimated 71,467 crop workers and 124,267 livestock workers, for a total of 195,734 or 35 percent more than the COA’s 144,000. Some of this gap may reflect NCFH efforts to count workers who are brought to farms by FLCs and other nonfarm employers.
The NCFH data identify three counties that each have 5,000 farm workers or more and 10 that have 2,000 to 3,000 workers each. These 13 counties had almost 38,000 farm workers or 20 percent of the state’s total, and differed in their mix of crop and livestock workers. Hidalgo in the Rio Grande Valley, where almost 60 percent of the $311 million in farm sales in 2017 were from FVH commodities, included over 80 percent crop workers. In Karnes county in south central Texas, two-thirds of the $29 million in farm sales in 2017 were from cattle and calves, and over 80 percent of workers were livestock workers.
13 countries accounted for 20% of Texas’s estimated 196,000 farm workers
|County||Total Crop Workers||Total Livestock Workers||Total Workers||Total Dependents||Total Workers and Dependents||Total Dependents 17 and Under|
Hidalgo county had the most farm workers in Texas, and is primarily a crop county
|2017||% change since 2012|
|Number of farms||2,436||+13|
|Land in farms (acres)||623,875||-22|
|Average size of farm (acres)||256||-30|
|Market value of products sold||311,030,000||-31|
|Total farm production expenses||257,731,000||-33|
|Net cash farm income||78,043,000||-20|
|Share of Sales by Type ($)|
|LIvestock, poultry, and products||6|
|Land in Farms by Use (%)|
An alternative source of farm labor data is the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, which reports the employment and earnings of workers who are employed on farms that must participate in unemployment insurance. Texas requires agricultural employers who hire at least three employees for at least an hour a day for 20 weeks in a calendar year, who pay at least $6,250 in cash wages in a calendar quarter, and/or who employ a seasonal worker in a truck farm, orchard, or vineyard, and/or who employ a migrant or seasonal worker, to enroll in the state’s UI system and to pay taxes on the wages earned by employees. The wages paid to H-2A workers are exempt from UI taxes.
Bowen National Research used 2010 UI data to estimate that Texas had 34,520 migrant and seasonal farm workers in 49 counties in 2010, including a third in the High Plains or the Texas Panhandle area in the northwestern part of the state. Another 15 percent of MSFWs were in south Texas counties, 15 percent were in west Texas, and the remaining 40 percent were in the state’s other counties. Of these 34,520 MSFWs, 18,300 were reported and 16,200 were “estimated” by Bowen. The most important crops grown in the regions studied by Bowen were cotton in the High Plains and west Texas and sorghum for grain in south Texas.
Bowen estimated that Texas had 40 counties with 1,000 or more MSFWs in 2010
The purpose of the Bowen report was to survey the availability of and need for MSFW housing. Bowen estimated that there was housing for 2,500 of the 31,000 low-income MSFWs in Texas, leaving a housing gap for 28,500 MSFWs, many of whom likely paid a high share of their income in rent.
Texas counties with 1,000 or more MSFWs in 2010
|Region 1 High Plains|
|Region 11 South Texas Border|
|Region 12 West Texas|
|Balance of State|
UI-covered employment in Texas agriculture declined 10 percent between 2000 and 2020 to an average 57,300. However, crop employment declined by over 20 percent, and crop support employment fell by over 40 percent, while livestock employment increased by 25 percent. The decline in crop employment and the rise in cattle employment likely reflects mechanization in crop production and fewer and larger livestock operations that depend on hired workers.
Direct-hire employment in livestock rose by 25 percent and employment in animal support services rose by 45 percent. There were 15 full-time equivalent jobs on animal farms for each FTE job in animal support in 2020, down from 18 to one in 2001. By contrast, the ratio of direct-hire crop to crop support rose to 2.3 by 2020, that is, there were 2.3 direct-hire workers for each crop support worker.
Average employment in Texas ag declined 10 percent since 2000, but rose for livestock and fell in crops
Most of the growth in livestock employment occurred between 2010 and 2020, while most of the decline in crop and crop support employment occurred between 2001 and 2010. The number of ag establishments registered with UI was stable at about 10,000, including 4,600 in livestock and 500 in livestock support.
The average weekly wages of UI-covered workers were higher in support services and lower for workers who were hired directly by farm establishments. In 2020, average weekly wages were $895 in livestock support and $865 in crop support, compared with $805 for direct hires in livestock and $695 for direct hires in crops. Livestock support wages were 11 percent higher and crop support wages were 20 percent higher than for directly hired workers in livestock and crops, respectively.
Average weekly wages for support workers rose faster than for direct hires
The weekly wages of UI-covered crop workers across the US were $732 in 2020 or two percent more than the $715 of US crop support workers. The average weekly wages of US livestock workers were $815 or three percent more than the $790 of US livestock support workers.
Texas livestock support wages have always been higher than direct-hire livestock wages, and the support premium has varied from one to 20 percent over the past two decades. Weekly crop support wages were lower than direct hire wages in the early 2000s but, after surpassing direct-hire crop wages in 2004, the crop support premium increased.
Fruits and Vegetables. The leading fruits by sales were grapefruit worth $65 million in 2019 and oranges and wine grapes, each worth about $23 million. Texas vegetable acreage has been shrinking; there were 50,000 acres harvested in 2019 that produced fresh and processing vegetables worth less than $200 million. Total fruit and vegetable sales were almost $350 million in 2017.
Texas has an elected agriculture commissioner, currently Sid Miller, who announced plans to run for a third term in 2022. Miller is a Trump supporter who criticized Governor Greg Abbott for implementing restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in 2020.