Dairy USA Wage Survey 2003

Dairy USA Wage Survey 2003

Gregorio Billikopf Encina
University of California

This informal survey is the second of its type. Many academics, practitioners, and trade journals participated in helping put out the word, to all of whom I am most indebted. A special thanks to the dairy farmers who took time to fill out the survey. With this second survey, we moved from mostly responses by mail to mostly electronic responses. The great advantage of the electronic responses include ease in participation (which I hope will increase through the years). One disadvantage are some definitely spurious responses. Questionable entries were deleted, and here we have the results , which I had to delete. Here are the results of the study, after deleting some of the more questionable entries.

Of the 112 responses, 46 were from the West; 37 from the Midwest; 10 from the Southeast; and 19 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). In the year 2000 survey we collected wage data for numerous job classifications in dairies, but seeing little difference in these wages, this year we concentrated on milkers. To see the former survey, go to http://tinyurl.com/p76w.

Milker wages stable

Milker wages in 2000 were $9.26 and today they have remained the same, at $9.25. An improvement in this year’s survey, however, allowed us to get some important details to make these numbers more useful. A comparison between wages across the USA in our table below, makes it appear as if the Western states pay more. In some instances, as we shall note, this is true. For the most part, however, the differences in wages across the USA represent a difference in the number of years employees have been on the job. It was up to each dairy farmer to pick one milker, and give us the number of years on the job for that person. Thus, readers should not assume that milkers in the West have a longer length of employment based on this study.

Table 1





Ave. hourly pay





Ave. years worked





One can see, for instance, that the Midwest and Northeast show the lowest wages, but these represent a shorter period of time on the job. A correlation coefficient for the whole data showed a statistically significant relationship between time worked and wages earned. However, the magnitude of this correlation was quite weak for the complete data set. While in the West there seemed to be increased wages for those who worked over 7 years, this did not hold as true for the other regions of the nation. Some numbers here could be of value for those dairy farmers who wish to get a better idea of how they compare with their neighbors. The data across all regions showed that milkers employed for less than three years were earning an average of $7.74 per hour. Table 1 shows the average earnings for 3.5 to 6 years, from $8.6 to $10, respectively. In the West, as we said, dairy farmers were more likely to increase the average pay for those having worked 7 or more years, which was $11 per hour.

Foreign born workers

In the year 2000 we were looking at total foreign born workers while in 2003 we were specifically interested in foreign born milkers. It makes sense that the percentage of foreign born milkers would be greater than the percentage of total foreign born employees. In our next survey in 2006, we hope to more clearly see any trends in this area.

Table 2





Foreign born employees in 2000



(insufficient data)


Foreign born milkers in 2003





Female milkers

The number of foreign born milkers is of special interest when contrasted to female milkers. In 2000, dairies who tended to hire women but no foreign born employees, tended to be in the West. If there were foreign born employees hired but no women, these dairies tended to be outside the West. In 2003, this trend was still generally true. 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. There is an apparent increase in the number of female employees in the West. This reflects the results of additional states that had not participated in the survey in 2000, besides California, Washington, Oregon and New Mexico. The new states, all of which included some respondents who employ females, were South Dakota, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas and Alaska. The validity of the data collected will increase as more dairy farmers participate in future surveys.

Table 3





Female milkers in 2000



(insufficient data)

(insufficient data)

Female milkers in 2003





Other data

Milkers were provided either housing or some housing allowance in the West (33%), Midwest (35%), Southeast (70%), and Northeast (37%). Finally, we provide one last table, showing average cows milked, time per shift and milkers per shift.

Table 4





Ave. cows milked





Ave. hours per shift





Ave. milkers per shift





For more information on dairy labor management, go to http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/ucce50/ag-labor/ where you will find articles, research papers, and a complete copy of the book Labor Management in Agriculture: Cultivating Personnel Productivity (2nd Edition, 2003), that you can download for free.

© University of California 2003
Permission to reproduce research paper is granted provided author and University affiliation are credited.

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Gregorio Billikopf
University of California Ag Extension
3800 Cornucopia Way # A
Modesto, CA 95358-9492

FAX (209) 525-6840 FAX
Phone: (209) 525-6800

15 November 2004