Can we solve the ag labor shortage?

Finding enough qualified labor in agriculture is going to get lots tougher, unless folks take deliberate, creative action. First in a series that looks at fixing the ag labor shortage.


Wes Ishmael, BEEF Magazine 

Aug 05, 2019


Imagine America without a third of its ranchers and farmers.


That’s the picture in the next couple of decades, based on producer age.


According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture released last spring, there were 3.4 million producers on 2.04 million farms and ranches.


“Number of producers is the total count of producers involved in decisions for the operation reported by the respondent,” according to the ag census.


Of those 3.4 million producers, 33.94% were 65 years old or older; 11.65% were at least 75 years old. Spun differently, ownership of a sizable chunk of U.S. agricultural production is likely to change hands over the next 10 to 25 years.


The hired labor force in agriculture is aging, too. According to the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS), the average age of hired farm laborers rose from 35.8 years in 2006 to 38.8 years in 2017, driven by aging foreign-born farm laborers. The labor force in this instance excludes managers, supervisors and other supporting occupations.


On the other side of the scale, just 8.39% of producers were 34 years old or younger.


Overall, the average age of all U.S. farm producers in 2017 was 57.5 years, which was 1.2 years older than in the 2012 ag census.


“If the current agricultural workforce — the majority of which is foreign-born — is not replenished by people who are interested in doing farm work even when they have other employment options, then the supply of farm labor will dwindle, and the average age of the agricultural workforce will rise,” ERS analysts explain in a bulletin published last year, “Farm Labor Markets in the United States and Mexico Pose Challenges for U.S. Agriculture.”


Certainly, production from some of the eldest producers will transition to the next generation, but evolution to this point has been for more people to leave production agriculture rather than remain a part of it.


“The vast majority of the U.S. labor force transitioned out of agriculture well before 1990,” according to the ERS publication. “By 1969, only 5% of the U.S. workforce was employed in agriculture. In 2017, agriculture accounted for about 13% of total employment in Mexico, compared with 1.5% in the United States.”


More production from fewer hands ...


Tech helps motivate, makes efficiency possible ...


Immigrants less interested in ag ...


Future trends ...


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