It is hard to fill farm jobs in rural America. To attract more employees, farm owners may have to sweeten the pot, and that includes higher wages.
According to the most recent data, wage increases on farms and ranches are at nearly double-digit percentages. The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service releases reports several times a year concerning farm labor. It collects data by region across the country regarding hourly pay rate, farm type and worker responsibility.
The most recent report was released in May. The data in the report is broken down into various weeks, with the most recent week of April 10-16, where farm operators hired 630,000 workers nationally on farms and ranches. That is up 3% from the same April 2021 reference week. Much like the urban economy, these workers — both new and existing — are seeing increased wages, adding more operating costs to farmers.
On average, farm operators paid their hired workers — anyone paid to do a job on the farm — $17.22 per hour, up 8% from last year. USDA breaks the average pay down even further by region and then by type of employee, whether field or livestock worker.
The regions are as follows:
Pay by farm responsibility
USDA offers definitions for workers. Fieldworkers are anyone engaged in planting, tending or harvesting crops. Livestock workers — those involved with cattle, pigs, sheep, dairy cows or poultry — also include those who milk cows and operate machinery for the farm.
Nationally, fieldworkers were paid 9% more this year, with an average of $16.50 per hour. However, in states along the West Coast and in the Northeast, farmers paid close to or above $18 per hour for fieldwork. The cheapest place to hire field labor is the Southeast at about $13 per hour.
When it comes to the national average wage for livestock workers, it was lower than fieldwork at $15.82 per hour, but still up 7%. Still, people willing to work in California saw over $18 per hour, and in Hawaii, it was nearly $19 per hour. Again, the Southeast region of the U.S. saw lower averages at about $13 per hour.
The table below breaks down the average wage for farmworkers based on responsibility and location:
Wages by farm size
Another interesting feature of the report is the wages paid based on gross value of sales. For example, farms with gross sales between $50,000 and $99,000 averaged wages of $16.91 per hour, while farms with sales in excess of $1 million averaged $17.53.
Each report is over 20 pages and includes many tables and charts that can be skimmed quickly. The content includes some information that can be helpful in trying to determine fair wages.
The next report is scheduled to be released in November. To check out the complete report based on your specific farm operation and location, it is free to browse or download at USDA-NASS.