Wages paid to dairy farm workers remain essentially unchanged from three years ago, according to a national study of dairy farms conducted by researchers at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis). This is the fourth study of its type that has been conducted since 2000.
There were 126 dairy farms that participated in the 2009 survey: 44 from the West, 52 from the Midwest, nine from the Southeast and 21 from the Northeast.
Average hourly wages hovered around $10/hour, with slightly more being paid in the West and Southeast. But that difference may be a reflection of years of service. Average years worked in the West (5.9) and Southeast (6.9) were two to three years longer than in the Midwest and Northeast.
"In 2009, we continue to see a relationship between the length of employment and wages earned,” says Gregorio Billikopf, a labor management specialist with UC Davis. For example, workers with one to three years of experience averaged $9.35/hour, while workers with more than 19 years of experience exceeded $12/hour.
"The average percentage of foreign-born milkers was essentially the same in 2009 [66%] and the 2006 survey [69%],” Billikopf says. But the low number of farms responding doesn't allow firm conclusions to be drawn.
What does seem to be clear is that the West and Southeast employ a larger percentage of foreign-born workers than the Midwest and particularly the Northeast, where only 29% of the workers in 2009 were foreign-born.
One difference found was that more dairies are now offering some type of incentive or bonus pay. In 2009, nearly half of the surveyed dairies offered an incentive compared to 37% in 2006.
"In this study, for the month of May 2009, about 80% of those employees eligible for an incentive earned one,” Billikopf says. "The average monetary value for those earning an incentive was $142 for the month.”
In contrast, only about a fourth of the 2009 surveyed farms offered health insurance to their employees, down from a third that offered insurance in 2006.
The recession in the general economy is apparently making labor more available on farms. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said labor was easier to find in 2009 than it was three years ago, compared to 14% in the previous study. "One dairy producer explained that potential employees showed up without any need for recruitment,” Billikopf says. "Much can be said about building a reputation for being a solid employer.”