farm laborers
(Photo: F Armstrong Photo / Adobe Stock)

By Natalie Willis, Reporter, Valley Ag Voice

In response to mounting concerns about rising agricultural labor expenses, 75 Congressional members petitioned the House and Senate appropriations committees to prohibit any H-2A wage increase from Jan. 2023 levels.

The letter, submitted on Jan. 11, expressed concerns over the annual adjustment of the Adverse Effect Wage Rate by the U.S. Department of Labor. In 2024, national labor rates for H-2A workers are expected to increase to $17.55 per hour, marking a 5% increase from 2023.

However, the AEWR varies by region and, due to California’s already high labor rates, agricultural employers will pay $19.75 per hour.

“Meanwhile, producers in Canada pay closer to $11 per hour for fieldworkers, or even approximately $1.50 per hour in Mexico. This uneven playing field greatly disadvantages our domestic producers,” the letter stated.

The Department of Labor’s executive order went into effect Jan. 1, but lawmakers are adamantly proposing to freeze the H-2A wage rates in upcoming funding legislation. Increasing the AEWR further inflates input costs such as energy and fertilizer as well as transportation and housing expenses for guest workers.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for every $100 spent on production, roughly $10 goes toward labor, and 15% of total cash expenses go to hired farm labor. Further, more labor-intensive industries such as specialty crops already spend nearly 40% of total cash expenses on labor.

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