The Van Trump Report

Farm Employment in the US has Declined -35% Over the Last 50 Years

The folks over at FarmdocDaily have released new research showing the dramatic change in farm employment over the last five decades. It probably comes as no surprise that farm employment has fallen by -35% since 1969 amid greater adoption of labor-saving technologies and the ongoing trend of farm consolidation. These changes have also had consequences for rural communities. The full report “Changes in Farm Employment, 1969 to 2021,” from Mark White, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois, and Andrew Van Leuven, Department of Agricultural Economics, Oklahoma State University, is available HERE. I have highlighted some of the most striking numbers below:

  • Farm employment has declined the most in the Southeast and Midwest. According to White and Van Leuven, in 1969, the Southeast (31.6% of total U.S. farm employment), Plains (19.7%), and Great Lakes (16.3%) regions accounted for almost two-thirds of total U.S. farm employment. By 2021 these three regions’ combined share was down to less than 55% of the total.
  • The Southeast region had 612,000 farm jobs in 2021—down from almost 1.3 million in 1969. The researchers say this period included rapid growth that saw urbanization increase while the population became less reliant on agriculture. The Southeast region had 35 people for every farm job in 1969. By 2021, this has ballooned to 140 people per farm job. However, the authors note that the Southeast remains an important agricultural region, accounting for almost 1 out of every 4 US farm jobs in 2021.
  • The Midwestern region, which includes the Great Lakes and Plains region states, lost nearly 45% of their farm employment since 1969, or roughly 630,000 jobs. Still, the Great Lakes and Plains states have a combined 850,000 farm jobs, accounting for almost one-third of US farm employment in 2021. White and Van Leuven not that unlike the Southeast, farm employment declines for parts of the Plains and Great Lakes correspond with depopulation throughout many rural parts of these regions. The decline of both agricultural and manufacturing jobs contributed to these population losses. In North and South Dakota, farm employment represents 5.2% of total employment which is greater than in any other state.
  • In the Far West, Rocky Mountain, and Southwest regions, agricultural employment has remained relatively steady over the past 50 years. In 2021, the Southwest and Rocky Mountain regions had farm employment levels that were within 8% of their 1969 employment. In fact, the Far West states had three percent more farm employment than they had in 1969. The authors point out that agricultural activities in the West—especially in the Far West—often involve more labor-intensive activities, such as produce.
  • Farm employment has stabilized in many areas since 2006, according to White and Van Leuven—in part due to a growing interest in local and regional foods, where the barriers to new producer entry are lower than for commodity production. Since 2006, farm employment in the United States has increased by +9,000 jobs. The Southwest (+27,700), Rocky Mountain (+13,200), and Far West (+26,800) all had net farm employment gains between 2006 and 2021, which helped offset farm employment decline in the Southeast (-39,700), Great Lakes (-19,000), and Plains (-9,000) regions. During this same period, there have also been modest farm employment gains in the New England (+6,200) and Mideast (+2,800) states.

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