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According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service, the number of workers hired directly by farm operators on U.S. farms and ranches continues to decline, despite higher wages and fewer hours.

USDA released the data from the October 2020 Farm Labor Survey on Feb. 11. Farmers were asked the number of hired workers, hours worked and wages for reference weeks in July and October. While benefits such as housing and meals are provided to some workers, those values are not included in the reported wage rates.

Nationally, the number of workers hired directly by farm operators was 777,000 during the week of July 12 to 18, 2020, which was down 3% from the same week in 2019. For the reference week of Oct. 11 to 17, 2020, that number dropped to 758,000, down 6% from the same reference week in 2019.

Respondents to the survey reported they paid their hired workers an average wage of $15.62 per hour during the July 2020 reference week, up 5% from that same week in 2019. In October, that average wage reported was $15.87 per hour, up 6% from the same week in 2019.

Meanwhile, the number of hours worked during the July 2020 reference period was an average of 41.4 hours, down 1% from July 2019. That number rose slightly in October 2020 to an average of 42.1 hours worked for hired workers, which itself was down 1% from October 2019.

Southern Plains

According to the report, there were 50,000 workers hired directly by farm operators on Texas and Oklahoma farms and ranches during the July 2020 reference week, up 16% from July 2019. That number dropped to 49,000 for the October 2020 reference week, which was unchanged from the October 2019 number.

Wages in the two southern Plains states during the July 2020 reference week averaged $13.94 per hour, which was up 4% from the same point in 2019. That average wage rose over 3 months by 3% to $14.30 during the October 2020 reference week. That was up 7% from October 2019.

The number of hours worked in the July 2020 reference week averaged 39.2 per week, down from the 40.6 hours per week average in July 2019. October 2020, that average rose to 41.1 hours per week, up slightly from the 40.2 average from October 2019.

Northern Plains

In the northern Plains states of Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, the number of workers hired directly by farm operators continues to fall, despite higher average wages paid.

There were 36,000 workers hired by northern Plains farmers and ranchers during the July 2020 reference week, down 3% from July 2019. During the fall harvest rush, that number rose to 39,000 workers employed during the October 2020 reference week, but that number was down 9% from the same period in October 2019.

Farm operators in the northern Plains paid an average wage of $16.68 per hour during the July 2020 reference week, up 7% from July 2019. Field workers received an average $16.83 per hour in July 2020, up nearly $1 from July 2019. Livestock workers in July earned an average $15.57 per hour, up $1.76 from 2019.

Wages rose in October 2020 for hired hands, to an average of $16.83 per hour, up 6% from October 2019. Field workers during the fall harvest push averaged $17.04 per hour, up 63 cents from 2019. Meanwhile, livestock workers earned $15.52 per hour in October 2020, up $1.76 from October 2019.

The number of hours worked by hired labor on northern Plains farms and ranches averaged 44.6 hours during July 2020, up from 42.2 hours worked during July 2019. And in October 2020, hired labor averaged 46 hours of work in the October 2020 reference week, up from the average of 43.4 hours worked in October 2019.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or jlatzke@hpj.com.

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