Farmworker wages under the H-2A program will rise 6% nationally in 2020 to an average of $13.99 an hour, with farmers in some states seeing increases of up to 10%, the Labor Department says. 

The department is posting the state-by-state rates in a Federal Register notice scheduled for publication Thursday. The "adverse effect wage rates," which will go into effect Jan. 2, are based on a USDA survey of what agricultural workers are paid in each state.

The largest increases for 2020 are in the Corn Belt and the Southwest. H-2A wages in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois will rise from $13.26 to $14.52 an hour in 2020, a 10% jump. In Missouri and Iowa, wages will rise from $13.34 to $14.58 an hour, or 9%.

Utah, Colorado and Nevada producers will see H-2A wages increases from $13.13 an hour to $14.26 an hour, or 9%. In Arizona and New Mexico, hourly rates will go from $12 to $12.91, or 8%.

For many states, next year's rate increases are moderate by comparison to 2019, when the AEWR rates rose by 23% in Utah, Colorado and Nevada, for example. In Arizona and New Mexico the 2019 increase was 15%.  Rates also were up 16% in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. This year, those three states will see 1% increases.

Although lower than 2019, the rate increases in 2020 will still be stiff for many producers, said Veronica Nigh, an economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“Revenues certainly haven’t been keeping up with what we’re seeing on the wages side,” Nigh said, citing as an example a 2% increase in revenues for the fruit, vegetables and nuts sector from 2015-2019. During the same period, the national AEWR rose 17%.

Meanwhile, the use of the program has hit record highs. In fiscal 2019, which ended Sept. 30, the Labor Department certified nearly 258,000 positions as eligible for H-2A, an increase of 6% from the year before. That followed two years of double-digit increases in certified positions, which totaled about 85,000 in 2012.

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Five states account for more than half the certified positions, according to the Labor Department: Florida (13%), Georgia (11.4%), Washington (10.2%), California (9.1%), and North Carolina (8.4%). Rounding out the top 10 are Louisiana, Michigan, Kentucky, New York and South Carolina, which together account for 16.4% of the H-2A jobs nationally.

A bill that the House passed earlier this month would expand the H-2A program to year-round workers and offer growers some relief on wage rates. Rates would be frozen the first year and capped in subsequent years.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is supported by about 300 farm groups, including Western Growers and the United Fresh Produce Association, but does not have the backing of AFBF, which is concerned the bill does not ensure there will be enough workers to meet growers’ needs. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters this week that the bill is a non-starter in the Senate. 

The 2020 AEWR rates are derived from the Agriculture Department's Nov. 21 Farm Labor report.

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