Dairy USA Wage Survey 2006
Gregorio Billikopf Encina
This informal survey is the third of its type. Many academics, practitioners, and trade journals participated in helping put out the word. We are most indebted to each one of you. A special thanks, also, to the dairy farmers who took time to fill out the survey. I had hoped to move completely to an on-line survey, but about a third of our responses came in through the mail. The great advantage of the electronic responses includes ease in participation—which I hope will increase through the years. One disadvantage is the spurious nature of some of the responses. I am seriously considering working with cooperators from each state in the 2009 survey. But anyway, here are the results of the study, after deleting some of the more questionable entries.
Of the 189 responses, 70 were from the West; 44 from the Midwest; 24 from the Southeast; and 51 from the Northeast. We used the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service to determine where states fall in terms of regions (cf. for instance, Hoard’s West, May 25, 2002, pp. W-68, W-69). Some of these states do not fall where one might think, so do take a close look at where your state falls, or give me call or send an E-mail to find out. In the first survey we collected wage data for numerous job classifications in dairies, but seeing little difference in these wages between cow feeders, calf feeders, milkers, and outside workers, for the past two surveys we have concentrated on milkers.
It was up to each dairy farmer to pick one milker, and give us the number of years the person has been employed. Therefore, readers should not assume that milkers in one region have longer lengths of employment based on this study. In 2003 we observed that the West paid best, but qualified the results since the West also had the longest average length of employment by far. In 2006, we note that as the reported average length of employment for other regions has risen, so has the average wage level. Average milker wages in 2006 where $9.69, compared to $9.25 in 2003, and $9.26 in 2000.
Dairy farmers should keep in mind that these are indeed average wages, and that there is a great amount of variability. We can also look at wages, once again, in terms of increasingly longer lengths of employment. Average wages ranged from $8.97 for those employed three years or less to $11.69, for those employed 19 years or more. With data corrections (the 13 to 18 years showed lower than the 8 to 12 years in the actual data) we might have:
Foreign born milkers
I have hypothesized that 1) the number of foreign born milkers will increase through time, especially as Mexican and Central American workers move into regions where they were not utilized in the past: and 2) that as foreign born milkers increase, the number of female milkers is likely to decrease.
Indeed, the percentages of foreign born milkers increased substantially throughout the United States. Places such as California have for a long time had high percentages of foreign born milkers, and in 2006 showed 94% foreign born. Yet the Western Region showed and increase in foreign born workers. This is because of the way that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service categorizes states. The Northeast had the greatest percentage increase in the employment of foreign milkers (from 3% in 2000, to 43% today).
The number of foreign born milkers is of special interest when contrasted to female milkers. One question of interest, to be answered by future surveys, will be to see if the number of female employees goes down as foreign workers move into an area. The Southeast did not fit the pattern of other states: it had an increase in both foreign and female employees.
Other Data of Interest
A little over a third (36.5%) of the dairy farmers provided an incentive pay program of some sort, with some of these falling more closely in the category of a bonus than an incentive. The average milker earnings during the month of April, in terms of their incentive pay, was $286. One third of the dairy employers provided some sort of health insurance. The average cost of this insurance, per month, was $377. About two thirds of the dairymen provided vacation to their milkers (over 10 days vacation on the average). A number of dairymen also provided additional pay in lieu of vacation. About half of the dairies provided milkers with housing or a housing allowance. Eighteen percent paid a shift differential for more difficult shifts.
Labor Supply Outlook
In 2006, issues of immigration and labor supply have been on the forefront, so we included a couple of questions on labor availability. Compared to 2003, how difficult was it to find labor? Of those who hired workers: 4% (n = 6) found it much easier; 10% (n = 16) somewhat easier; 47% (n =78) about the same; 19% (n = 31) somewhat more difficult; and 21% (n = 34) much more difficult to find labor. Of those who reported changes, one third felt the difference in labor availability was due mostly to internal changes they had made, while the remaining two thirds felt they had to make adjustments to the market or other external changes.
Often, the most interesting portion of a survey revolves around the comments. A few expressed fears about uncertainties regarding immigration reform as well as changes in labor law. While many dairy farmers pondered how they could ever compete with non-agricultural jobs for employees, one respondent explained that s/he had made important changes in terms of improved interpersonal relations with workers, including the use of a veterinarian who spoke Spanish: “Our dairy has a reputation as a good place to work. We seem to always have more people wanting to work here than we have work for.”Numerous dairy farmers try creative ways to reward employees, everything from informal incentives for those who do well, to incentive pay programs. Several respondents expressed their gratitude for Hispanic labor, such as the comment from a Pennsylvania dairy farmer who explained, “We switched to Hispanic milkers one year ago and life has been good ever since.” Several respondents asked excellent questions about how to attract labor, design incentive pay programs, understand why workers leave dairies, and deal with other issues. Many of these answers may be found at http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/ucce50/ag-labor/ or http://tinyurl.com/6xtt where dairy farmers can find articles, research papers, and several free downloadable books including Labor Management in Agriculture: Cultivating Personnel Productivity (2nd Edition); Dairy Incentive Pay (4th Edition), and Helping Others Resolve Differences. You may contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.525.6800.
Permission to reproduce research paper is granted provided author and University affiliation are credited.
Gregorio Billikopf FAX (209) 525-6840 FAX
FAX (209) 525-6840 FAX
18 September 2006