Source: NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIV submitted to
Sponsoring Institution
National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Project Status
Funding Source
Reporting Frequency
Accession No.
Grant No.
Project No.
Proposal No.
Multistate No.
Program Code
Project Start Date
Mar 8, 2021
Project End Date
Sep 30, 2025
Grant Year
Project Director
Gutierrez-Li, AL.
Recipient Organization
Performing Department
Agricultural and Resource Economics
Non Technical Summary
The agricultural labor supply in the United States has declined over the last three decades. Farmers across different states and crops have reported experiencing difficulties recruiting and keeping workers every season (Charlton et al., 2012); (Taylor and Charlton, 2016). The problem has persisted despite wage increases, improvements in working conditions, additional worker benefits, and the introduction of new technologies. While the reduction in the supply of agricultural workers has been consistent at the national level, the needs and challenges of every sector and state are different. Labor-intensive agricultural industries generate millions of dollars in revenue to the country and create a significant number of jobs that contribute to the rural economies in states like North Carolina. To keep up with production growth and consumer demand, farmers need to have access to a constant and reliable labor force.The problem of a diminishing availability of workers in the fields has worsened in the last twenty years. Most of the second half of the last century was characterized by a relative abundance of workers in agriculture. This led to low farm wages, lower production costs, and few incentives for growers to invest in labor-saving technologies (Taylor and Charlton, 2018). The situation today is very different. Farmers across the country have been experiencing difficulties to hire and retain workers in all the stages of the production process. At the same time, there has been a change in the demographics of workers on farms, with less migration to follow jobs in different crops (Fan et al., 2015) and an exponential growth (in the last ten years) in the demand of legally hired immigrant workers brought under H-2A visas (US Department of Labor, 2020).The reduction in the number of farmworkers has been caused by a variety of factors including an increase in border enforcement (Kostandini et al., 2014) -a non-negligible fraction of agricultural workers is undocumented (US Department of Agriculture, 2020), economic growth in Mexico -the primary source country of workers (Hanson, 2006), and the aging of the current agricultural workforce (Taylor and Charlton, 2018). As opposed to what is seen in other labor markets, once agricultural workers leave the sector, they do not tend to return. Even in periods of recession and high unemployment, and despite wages increases, few native-born workers are attracted to agriculture (Richards, 2018). Immigration reforms are hard to implement and mechanization efforts require high upfront costs and considerable time to be profitable. In addition, economic growth in Mexico encourages agricultural workers to transition to other sectors like services, which leads to higher agricultural wages in Mexico and reduces the incentives to move North as expected incomes in the United States relative to earnings at home decline (Kennan and Walker, 2011); (Lessem, 2018).A steady and reliable supply of farmworkers is very important for the economy of North Carolina and the food security of the nation. The state is among the top 10 states in terms of agricultural production and receipts in the United States. Its location, weather, and topography make it suitable for the production of multiple labor-intensive crops. North Carolina is the number one producer of sweet potatoes, the second largest producer of Christmas trees, and the third highest producer of strawberries in the US (North Carolina Growers Association, 2020). In addition, the state has large tobacco, poultry, and hog industries. Contrary to other crops whose production is highly mechanized, the products grown in North Carolina are heavily reliant on labor in all the stages of the production process (planting, cultivating, harvesting, storing, selling, and transporting). In 2018, the agriculture and agribusiness sector accounted for approximately one-sixth or 16% of North Carolina's production with a contribution of $92.7 billion to the state's gross domestic product of $564 billion. Likewise, more than 770,000 jobs in the state -out of the 4.4 million- were associated with the agricultural sector (Walden, 2020). It is estimated that between 90,000 and 180,000 people work on farms in North Carolina (North Carolina Department of Commerce, 2020), contributing to the production of more than 150 crops and to the survival and growth of rural communities.
Animal Health Component
Research Effort Categories

Knowledge Area (KA)Subject of Investigation (SOI)Field of Science (FOS)Percent
Goals / Objectives
The main objective of this project is to identify and assess the trends, challenges, and opportunities associated with agricultural labor in the United States. To this end, the project will:a) investigate the size and composition of the current farm labor force and study the factors that affect the supply and demand of different types of workers including migrant, seasonal, and H-2A as well as their wagesb) provide insights on the development and implementation of labor-saving technologies and mechanization efforts in American agriculturec) study the determinants behind the decline in the supply of farm labor, some of which include immigration policy, economic growth in Mexico, workers' transition to other industries, and aging of the workforced) describe current developments aimed at attracting and training agricultural workers, as well as the introduction of non-monetary and monetary incentives to retain individuals in the fieldsThe project will have an emphasis on the problems faced by the leading labor-intensive agricultural industries in North Carolina such as sweet potatoes, Christmas trees, tobacco, and specialty crops, among others. These sectors are highly reliant on foreign-born agricultural workers which are also in high demand by growers in states like Georgia, Florida, California, and Washington. The project will identify and analyze the labor needs of growers in North Carolina and may also study some of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the agricultural labor supply in this state and the country. Information will be gathered to better understand the challenges that producers face regarding the use of labor in all the stages of the production process including planting, cultivating, harvesting, storing, and selling.
Project Methods
The project will follow different quantitative and qualitative methodologies to collect and analyze data. The information will be obtained by conducting surveys of stakeholders and the use of existing data sources developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the FRED St. Louis database, among others. The data will be analyzed following appropriate descriptive, statistical, and econometric techniques including regression and probabilistic approaches. For example, to better understand the agricultural labor supply in the US, the researcher will analyze factors influencing the reduction in the number of farmworkers in the United States by studying the determinants of Mexico-US migration. This is important as most agricultural workers are immigrants from Mexico (Martin, 2018). For this purpose, data from the Mexican Migration Project (MMP) will be used, as this is the best source of longitudinal data on the migration experiences of Mexicans moving to the US. The MMP contains many decades of information and includes data on demographic characteristics, wages, networks, and occupation of individuals deciding to stay in Mexico or moving to the US. At the same time, and contrary to other datasets commonly used to study immigration, the MMP has information on legal status, and has a large sample of undocumented immigrants that work in agriculture in the US. The author will develop different econometric models to disentangle the factors that determine the probability that an individual decides to migrate from Mexico to the US, or that a Mexican in the US decides to return home. Different reduced form analyses like limited dependent variable models, sample selection binary models, multinomial choice logistic regression models, fixed effect models, and panel data and cross-sectional models will be developed.