Farm labor's role in U.S. agriculture varies by commodity

A chart showing the hired labor as a share of production cost, by production speciality, years 2006 to 2010.

During 2006-10, hired farm labor accounted for 17 percent of variable production expenses in U.S. agriculture as a whole, but for much higher shares of expenses in more labor-intensive sectors, such as vegetables (35 percent), nursery products (46 percent), and fruit (48 percent). The farm labor situation is complicated by the fact that many U.S. farmworkers lack the immigration status needed to work legally in this country. Analysis of the U.S. Department of Labor's National Agricultural Workers Survey indicates that over the past decade, about half of the hired workers employed in U.S. crop agriculture were unauthorized (similar information is not available for the livestock sectors). Efforts to stem the flow of illegal immigrants and tighten enforcement of employee documentation requirements will likely have widely varying impacts on the supply of farm labor depending on what is grown, as well as the size and location of the farming operation. This chart is found in “Immigration Policy and Its Possible Effects on U.S. Agriculture” in the June 2012 Amber Waves.

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