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2021 NYS Farming Predictions Include Limited Labor and Increased Wages

New York State farmers should anticipate increased wages and a continuously tight labor market in 2021, according to Richard Stup, agricultural workforce specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension and Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Stup offered his insights during the 2021 Agricultural and Food Business Outlook Conference on January 25.

Stup predicted that “ag labor is going to remain scarce due to… underlying demographics and labor market factors, even if we get immigration reform, ” he said during the conference. However, this scarcity in the agricultural labor market is not new. According to the Census of Agriculture data from 2012 and 2017, approximately 11,000 New York farms employed 61,000 workers in 2012; whereas, the same number of farms employed just under 56,000 workers in 2017. The trends that lead to this dearth of farmworkers include a (pre-COVID) low unemployment rate, a more urbanized population, and fewer new immigrants.

The U.S. agricultural sector is also heavily reliant upon unauthorized immigrants. Stup noted Pew Research Center data which shows that of the approximately 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. at present, 66% of this demographic are long-term residents and have lived here for over a decade. Stup explains that on many farms in New York State, these unauthorized immigrants are now middle managers at their operation, are established in their community, and have families — they are no longer in the job market.

Stup also predicts that “wages are going to continue to climb from both market and regulatory pressure,” he shared at the conference. This factor will impact farmers in New York State as the minimum wage will increase to a mandatory $15 an hour in the near future. He believes this could ultimately be a concern for employers with the highest labor costs such as vegetable and tree operations and nurseries.

Read more about what 2021 has in store for farmers on CALS News.

Agnes Guillo

Agnes is a Senior in CALS studying Animal Science with minors in Spanish and Entomology. Hailing from Brooklyn, NY, Agnes has been interested in agriculture and small-scale farming from a young age. Since arriving at Cornell, she has spent much of her time working with sheep, including most recently a research project investigating sheep grazing on solar panel arrays. More broadly, Agnes is interested in community-based farming, agriculture education and outreach, and supporting Spanish speaking farmers.
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