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Fresh Produce Industry Employment

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November 22, 2022

The IFPP commissioned a study that estimated some 1.1 million US jobs were linked to the US fresh produce industry in 2021. The Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act of 2004 defines specialty crops as fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture. The IFPP included these farm commodities and the industries that distribute them to consumers.

The fresh produce industry includes farm and nonfarm businesses

NAICS Codes that Include Fresh Produce and Floral Supply Industry-relevant Employment
Wholesale and Retail
42448 Fruit and vegetable wholesalers
44523 Fruit and vegetable markets
42493 Nursery stock and florists’ supplies wholesalers
4452 Retail grocery stores (produce section)
Food Service
71 Arts and entertainment (food service portion)
72 Accommodations, food services and restaurants (food service portion)
1112 Arts and entertainment (food service portion)
1113 Fruit production (farm)
1114 Floriculture production and greenhouse nursery (farm)
115115 Support for crops (labor contractors/crew leaders)

No single source provides data on employment in the fresh produce industry. The IFPP study estimated that average employment in fresh produce was 1.1 million in 2021, including 600,000 on farms.

600,000 of the average 1.1 million fresh produce jobs were on farms

IMPLAN Industries 2019 2021 (most current)
Grocery and Related Product 100,149 91,464
Floral Merchant 22,635 22,258
Grocers 314,927 320,330
Vegetable and Melon Farming 143,416 139,773
Fruit Farming 309,757 300,402
Floriculture Production 41,827 41,024
Farm Labor 127,606 123,898
Food Services
Entertainment, Museums, etc. 2,805 2,278
Restaurants, Accommodations 103,495 88,665
Total 1,166,616 1,130,092

The IFPP estimated declining on-farm, wholesale, and food service employment, and rising retail employment

The IFPP estimated declining on-farm, wholesale, and food service employment, and rising retail employment
  2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Food Service 103 105 106 85 91
Retail 316 315 315 318 320
Wholesale 124 125 123 115 114
Production 6.1 628 623 608 605

The most current employment data are from the QCEW, which covers about 80 percent of on-farm employment. The QCEW reported that average employment in NAICS 1112 vegetables in 2021 was 84,000, in fruits and nuts 1113 some 164,000, in nursery 1114 some 174,000, and of FLCs 115115 some 177,000, or a total of 599,000. If QCEW employment is 80 percent of total employment as BLS estimates, total on-farm employment in FVH commodities would be 750,000.

Agriculture is divided by the NAICS into 30+ subsectors. In 2020, five of these sectors accounted for three-fourths of total UI-covered farm wages paid of $50 billion. Crop support includes FLCs but provides no information on the commodity where FLC employees are employed. Direct-hire fruit and nut, vegetable and melon, greenhouse and nursery, and dairy employment include only workers hired directly by farm operators in these NAICS codes.

5 of the 30+ ag sectors accounted for ¾ of UI-covered farm wages in 2020

Farm labor contractors employ more workers than any of the other Big 5; their average employment across the US was 172,000 in 2020. UI-covered crop employment averaged 900,000, including an average 550,000 workers who were hired directly and an average 350,000 who were brought to farms by crop support employers. Since UI-covered employment includes only 80 percent of crop employment, total employment on crop farms averaged 1.1 million, and over two million unique workers were employed on crop farms due to seasonality and turnover.

FLCs often bring workers to farms to perform specific seasonal tasks such as harvesting fruit

The fresh produce commodity with the most direct-hire workers is apples, where average employment in 2020 was 33,000 or 20 percent of the average 165,000 workers who were hired directly by US fruit and nut farms. There were more unique workers employed on apple farms, perhaps 100,000, when accounting for seasonality and turnover and workers who were brought to apple farms by FLCs.

US apples had the highest average employment among commodities at 33,000 in 2020

Not all the employment in FVH agriculture is in fresh produce; tree nuts and wine are generally considered non-perishable after harvest. Most of the two million average employment in NAICS 71, arts and entertainment, did not involve fresh produce, nor did much of the 12.2 million average employment in NAICS 72, accommodation and food services.

The IFPP reported that California accounted for 35 percent of fresh produce industry employment, followed by WA, FL, TX, and NY. The top five states accounted for 60 percent of fresh produce industry employment.

5 states accounted for 50% of fresh produce industry employment

Distribution of Fresh Produce and Floral Supply Industry Employment by State (in thousands)
California 404 35%
Washington 99 9%
Florida 82 7%
Texas 53 5%
New York 51 4%

The IFPP estimated that 55% of employment in US fresh produce is on farms


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