Farm Labor Data Incomplete

Farm Labor Data Incomplete

October 13, 2020

Data Has Been Delayed from Counties

By Tim Hammerich, with the Ag Information Network

Reports of farm labor being down dramatically may be using data that is incomplete, according to UC Davis Agricultural Economist Dr. Dan Sumner.

“It turns out the California government data on labor markets is usually quite good. But this year they get reports from counties and the counties are delayed or only partial reports. So what might look in the official data, like a lot fewer workers in agriculture, frankly it's just not true,” said Sumner

Instead, Dr. Sumner says indications are that the farm workforce is at consistent levels or higher from previous years, based on the number of farm shipments.

“What I do know because I've been looking at it a lot, is that produce shipments are at normal levels or higher. And they all require lots of hired farm labor, whether it's strawberries or lettuce or celery. And you couldn't possibly have the normal shipments, including things like avocados that are very labor-intensive, if we had 30% or 40% less labor, which is what the official data still show. It's subject to revision, and I think if they're able to get the revisions done, we'll see we have a normal labor supply,” said Sumner.

Dr. Sumner said the farm labor workforce has been especially vulnerable during the COVID-19 outbreak, but we may also be seeing some workers return to farmwork from other jobs, which is rare.