Projects Funded for Zachariah Rutledge

2018-2019

The Impacts of a Declining Farm Labor Supply on Farming in California

  • Diane Charlton
  • J. Edward Taylor
  • Zachariah Rutledge

Abstract

Specific Objectives of the Project: Objective
1: To estimate recent and future trends in California farm wages.
2: To analyze the farm labor supply response to changes in farm wages.
3: To explore how increases in California farm wages affect the adoption of labor-saving technologies, the mix of labor-intensive crop production, and the employment of H-2A visa workers.

Project Report/Summary of Results:
The funds provided through this grant enabled us to develop and implement an online survey of California farmers to study how they are adapting to the reduced availability of farmworkers. This survey was developed with the cooperation of the California Farm Bureau Federation (Sara Neagu-Reed and Bryan Little), who helped develop the survey and sent it to their members and affiliated grower groups on our behalf. The survey was tailored to elicit information related to (i) the extent to which farmers have had to increase wages to retain an adequate workforce, (ii) the use of farm labor contractors and the H-2A visa program, (iii) changes in acreage resulting from higher wages or reduced access to farmworkers, (iv) the adoption of labor-saving technologies, and (v) changes in cultivation practices resulting from labor scarcity. Over 1000 farmers responded to the survey. Some key findings from the survey include evidence that (i) the rate at which farmers have to pay higher wages to retain a sufficient workforce is
increasing, (ii) the use of farm labor contractors and the H-2A visa program is expanding, (iii) some farmers are reducing acreage dedicated to labor-intensive crops and are switching into less labor-intensive crops like nuts and grain/row crops, (iv) many farmers (about 1/3 in our survey) have started using labor-saving technologies for the first time during the past few years, and (v) farmers are increasingly having to change cultivation practices as a result of reduced access to workers, including reducing or delaying pruning, weeding, and harvesting. Additional work will quantify the effects of labor shortages and higher wages on these various outcomes, but the survey format was tailored to facilitate these types of analyses and provide the data to conduct them.
We also engaged in a collaborative effort to co-author two Choices Magazine articles, one of which has been accepted for publication (the other is currently under review). The first article conveys the economic theory behind a farmer’s decision to adopt a labor-saving technology in the face of higher wages and includes a discussion about agricultural technologies that have been used and are being developed to help farmers produce with a smaller workforce. The second article discusses trends in farmworker employment and wages and draws upon previous research supported by the Giannini Foundation to provide estimates of how high farm wages will need to increase in order to keep the farm workforce stable.
Taylor and Charlton’s new book, The Farm Labor Problem: A Global Perspective, was published by Elsevier Academic Press in December 2018, with acknowledgement to support from the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics. We created a website to feature the book and other farm labor research; see https://farmlabor.ucdavis.edu/.
There is substantial interest in this area of research, as can be seen by recent invitations for us to present work related to this topic at conferences, including the UC Davis Agriculture and Natural Resource Annual Vegetable Crops meeting, the World Bank’s Future of Work in Agriculture conference, the Department of Labor’s NAWS at 30 conference, and the Gifford Center for Population Studies’ Farm Labor 2019 conference.