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July 2010, Volume 16, Number 3

Midwest, Northeast, Northwest, Dairy

Michigan COA. Michigan farmers had sales of almost $6 billion in 2007, including $1.4 billion of FVH commodities. In 2008, farm sales rose to $6.6 billion, including $4.1 billion from crops and $2.5 billion from livestock. Field crops were almost two-thirds of crop receipts, and milk almost two-thirds of livestock receipts. Floriculture and nursery crops were worth $634 million, vegetables $434 million, and fruit $380 million.

Some 11,315 farms incurred farm labor expenditures of $606 million, equivalent 10 percent of farm sales in 2007, and almost all of these expenditures were for directly hired workers; contract labor expenses were $42 million (COA Table 4). COA Table 62 reported that greenhouses and nurseries had labor expenditures of $169 million (270 had expenses of $100,000 or more), dairies $134 million (327 had expenses of $100,000 or more), fruit farms $88 million (226 had expenses of $100,000 or more), and vegetable farms $72 million (160 had expenses of $100,000 or more).

Michigan dairy and FVH farms paid $463 million or 76 percent of COA farm labor expenditures.

Many of the workers hired in Michigan are seasonal. There were 86,100 workers hired in 2007, including 61,800 for less than 150 days on the responding farm (COA County Table 7).

Michigan UI. Michigan agriculture employed an average 25,500 UI-covered workers in 2008; the range was from a low of 17,500 in January to a peak 36,200 in August. Average UI-covered agricultural employment in Michigan has been stable at about 25,000 since 2000. Some 2,300 NAICS 11 establishments paid $617 million in wages to covered employees in 2008, for average weekly wages of $465.

The 438 greenhouse and nursery establishments (NAICS 1114) hired an average 7,000 workers in 2008, 28 percent, and paid $163 million in farm wages, 26 percent; average weekly wages were $450. The 313 dairy establishments (NAICS 11212) hired an average 4,100 workers in 2008, 16 percent, and paid $107 million in farm wages, 17 percent; average weekly wages were $500.

The 301 fruit establishments (NAICS 1113) hired an average 4,500 workers in 2008, 18 percent, and paid $83 million in farm wages, 13 percent; average weekly wages were $355. The 182 vegetable establishments (NAICS 1112) hired an average 2,325 workers in 2008, nine percent, and paid $51 million in farm wages, eight percent; average weekly wages were $420.

Michigan dairy and FVH farm establishments paid $404 million or two-thirds of UI-covered wages.

The Michigan COA (2007) and UI farm labor (2008) data paint similar pictures? labor expenditures and wages are very similar for greenhouses and nurseries and fruit farms, but COA has higher labor expenditures for dairies and vegetable farms. Michigan has federal UI coverage requirements, that is, farm employers who pay cash wages of $20,000 or more for agricultural labor in any calendar quarter, or who employed 10 or more workers on at least one day in each of 20 different weeks during the year, must provide UI coverage to their workers.

Colorado. Talbott Farms and other Palisade-area farmers reported more interest from local workers in farm jobs in summer 2010, but complained that many of the local workers they hired were not "loyal," meaning they were unwilling to work long hours when needed or they left for better jobs as soon as they found them. Talbott, the largest fruit operation in Colorado's Grand Valley, reported that "hundreds" of local workers called about jobs, but few started to work and fewer stayed.

Talbott must try to recruit local workers before hiring the H-2A workers it prefers. Bruce Talbott says that local workers are employed fewer than the typical 70 hours a week worked by H-2A workers.

New York. The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act (A 1867; S 2247), which would require overtime pay after 10 hours of work in a day or 60 hours a week (55 hours in 2013), was defeated in the State Senate on April 20, 2010, as occurred in previous years. The FFLPA would have required a day off each week unless farm workers specifically waived their right to a day off. The FFLPA was re-introduced in May 2010 as S. 7787, generating protests from farm employers.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Darrel Aubertine called the defeat of the FFLPA in April 2010 a "major victory" for family farms: "we stood up to downstate legislators and special interests who do not understand the economic realities of agriculture." The New York Farm Bureau, which estimated that the FFLPA would have raised farm labor costs by $200 million, said: "We are already paying employees a good wage, or just like any other employee they would choose to leave and find alternative employment."

Under current law, only workers on farms that employ at least 10 workers or have quarterly payrolls of $20,000 or more must provide unemployment insurance benefits for their workers. The FFLPA would broaden UI coverage to workers on smaller farms and require all farms to provide workers compensation insurance. The FFLPA would also establish a seven-member advisory committee on agricultural collective bargaining to develop a frame work for unionization and bargaining.

Washington. Picking cherries is the highest-wage job in Washington; average hourly earnings are often $12 or more, attracting workers who are not normally in the farm work force. The 2010 sweet cherry crop is estimated at 160,000 tons in 2010, down from 210,000 tons in 2009 (some 35,000 tons were not harvested in 2009).

Laid-off construction workers were reportedly applying for farm jobs in Washington in 2010. Linda Edwards of Wenatchee-based Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers said that 15 percent of the first 250 applications for cherry-season warehouse jobs in 2010 were ex-construction workers; total packing-related employment is 400.

Oregon. Orchard View Farms, a 2,100-acre cherry and pear farm in Oregon, pays 80 percent of the health insurance premium for its 85 year-round workers but does not offer health insurance to its 600 to 700 seasonal workers. The 2010 US health-care law requires employers with 50 or more full-time equivalent workers to provide them with health coverage, and pay at least 60 percent of the premium, starting in 2014 or pay a $2,000 penalty per employee.

Seasonal workers employed less than 120 days are not counted toward the 50 or more full-time worker figure, but the health care law says that large employers must offer health insurance to seasonal workers when they are working full time. It is not yet clear whether large employers such as Orchard View will have to provide health insurance to their seasonal workers.

There are benefits for some employers under the new health care law. Employers with fewer than 25 workers are eligible for federal tax credits for six years to offset the expense of providing insurance, provided the employer pays at least half the cost of the insurance. The new state insurance exchanges that will allow individuals and employers with fewer than 100 workers to shop for coverage starting in 2014 may offer farmers a wider choice of quality plans for themselves and their workers.

Dairy. The US produces too much milk, which is 88 percent water, four percent fat, and eight percent skim solids. The number of dairy cows has declined to about nine million, but each cow produces almost 20,000 pounds of milk a year, generating record milk production.

There are about 90,000 US dairies with an average 100 cows each, but 40 percent of all dairy cows are on about 1,000 farms that each have 1,000 or more cows. Large dairies have lower costs, since costs of producing milk decline with more cows. For example, in 2005 USDA estimated the cost of producing milk at $30 per hundredweight for farms with fewer than 50 cows, and less than $14 for farms with more than 1,000 cows.

Two-thirds of US milk is used to produce dairy products including cheese, ice cream, butter and nonfat dry milk. The US government helps to keep the price of dairy products high by setting a floor price, for example, $1.05 per pound of butter.

The National Milk Producers Federation ( supports the Cooperatives Working Together ( program, which aims to "reduce milk production and increase demand for dairy products in order to provide meaningful financial returns to dairy producers in all parts of the country." Between 2003 and 2010, the CWT supported 10 "herd retirement" programs that allow dairy farmers to receive payments in exchange for selling their cows for slaughter.

A survey of dairy farmers throughout the US between June and August 2008 obtained 1,100 usable responses on farm labor issues. About 60 percent of respondents had 50 to 200 cows and 12 percent had 500 or more cows. Researchers concluded that dairy farmers more dependent on foreign workers, and expecting labor shortages, were more likely to plan to quit dairy farming. About 41 percent of the workers employed on responding farms were immigrants.

Of the 130 responding dairies with 500 or more cows, 70 percent did not expect a shortage of farm labor. Over 80 percent of the large dairies that did not expect a labor shortage hired mostly foreign-born workers. Of the 34 large dairies that did expect a labor shortage, less than 70 percent hired mostly foreign-born workers.

Smaller dairy operators were most likely to plan to exit the industry within three to five years. It is very difficult to separate labor from other concerns, including a cost-price squeeze, to explain exits from dairying.

Richard Craver, "RJR rebuts farmworker arguments at meeting," Winston-Salem Journal, May 8, 2010. Jude Seymour, "State Senate panel votes down farm labor bill," Daily News, April 21, 2010. Nancy Lofholm, "Colorado orchards try to hire locally, but workers aren't interested," Denver Post, April 19, 2010. Mike Irwin, "Idled blue-collar workers turn to ag jobs," Wenatchee World, April 14, 2010. Susanto D., C.P. Rosson, D.P. Anderson, F.J. Adcock. 2010. Immigration policy, foreign agricultural labor, and exit intentions in the United States dairy industry. Journal of Dairy Science. Volume 93, Issue 4, Pp 1774-1781. April.

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