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October 6, 2020

USDA to Discontinue Ag Labor Survey

The U.S Department of Agriculture announced last week its intent to suspend the Agricultural Labor Survey which is used to set the Adverse Effect Wage Rates for H-2A workers each year.

According to USDA, “[t]he Agricultural Labor Survey provides quarterly statistics on the number of agricultural workers, hours worked, and wage rates. Number of workers and hours worked have been used to estimate agricultural productivity; wage rates have been used in the administration of the H-2A Program and for setting Adverse Effect Wage Rates. Survey data have also been used to carry out provisions of the Agricultural Adjustment Act.

In justifying this change, the agency stated the labor survey is redundant and pointed to alternative sources of ag labor data including the Agricultural Resources Management Survey (ARMS), Census of Agriculture (COA), and the National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS), among others.

USDA’s most recent farm labor survey was scheduled to be conducted in mid-October, and a report on its findings was set to be published in November, but now the USDA has pivoted away from Agricultural Labor Survey.

It is not clear what the effect of the suspension of the Agricultural Labor Survey will be on the setting of the Adverse Effect Wage Rates. Labor advocates have cried that the suspension of the survey will have the intended effect of lowering farmworker wages, without promulgating a rule that expressly lowers wages. However, it not yet clear what methodology the U.S. Department of Labor will use to set the H-2A wages, or if wages will increase or decrease.  Earlier this year the Ag Workforce Coalition, which includes Western Growers, sent a letter to Congress arguing that spiraling Adverse Effect Wage Rates put domestic producers at a competitive disadvantage.