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Farm labor rates trending higher

An ag labor economist says USDA’s latest Farm Labor report is a likely indicator increases to farm worker wages aren’t slowing down.

Michigan State University’s Zach Rutledge tells Brownfield the agency surveys domestic and H-2A seasonal guestworkers who are hired directly by farms.

“I would expect to see higher rates again next year and kind of roughly the same increase across the board that we’ve been seeing,” he says.

Rutledge says wages have trended about five percent higher each year for the past five years.

USDA says wages in April were up five percent compared last year to $18.98 per hour, but operators hired five percent fewer workers.

Rutledge says from October to January, employees in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, Cornbelt Region I, increased earnings to $20.39 per hour. “They went up $1.78, which is quite a big increase,” he says.

He says workers in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, the Lake Region, during the winter did see wages decline by $1.25 over that same period. “Wages are trending down to at or below last year’s average, and the Lake Region is also trending down towards the national average,” he says.

Rutledge says many in the industry are concerned higher mandated H-2A cost increases are squeezing out farmers.

The results of the May and November Farm Labor Surveys will be used as part of next year’s Adverse Effect Wage Rate and will determine 2025 H-2A wages.

AUDIO: Zach Rutledge, Michigan State University

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