In fiscal year 2019, the H-2A farm labor program set a record for certified positions, which is the number of applications processed and approved. According to Veronica Nigh, American Farm Bureau Federation Economist, more than 258,000 certified positions is considered a milestone.
“Passing the 250,000 positions is a big deal,” said Nigh. “This is the seventh consecutive year with increases in the H-2A program. A few years ago, the H-2A program was a vary minor part of U.S. on-farm employment.”
While the national Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) will increase in 2020 to $13.99, a 6 percent increase from 2019, Nigh said increases will vary by region.
“The region with the smallest growth rate of 1 percent is the Mountain 1 region of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming,” she said. “You compare that to the Corn Belt 1 region which includes Ohio, Indiana and Illinois and they’re looking at a 10 percent increase in wages compared to 2019.”
Nigh said commodity prices are not keeping up with the growth in the AEWR, causing some concern for specialty crop growers.
“The receipts data we see for fruits, nuts and vegetables haven’t kept pace with the growth in the AEWR,” said Nigh. “Over the last five years, the total cash receipts for those specialty crop growers have increased by 2 percent between 2015 and 2019 while the national AEWR increased by 17 percent.”