Farm Labor Data Incomplete
Reports of farm labor being down dramatically may be using data that is incomplete. This according to UC Davis Agricultural Economist Dr. Dan Sumner.
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.”
Instead, Dr. Sumner says indications are that the farm workforce is at consistent levels or higher from previous years, based on the amount of farm shipments.
Sumner… “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 pretty 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're pretty much normal labor supply.”
Dr. Sumner says 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.