Even though market demand for regionally grown food is relatively strong, farmers remain price takers rather than price makers in most supply chains. Indicators of success for regional food production include labor availability, fair working conditions and adequate income for all who move food from field to market, particularly hired labor. Given the labor shortage in agriculture, what can be done to improve labor conditions and wages?
CIAS is investigating this issue from two angles:
- from the perspective of farmers who want to improve their ability to manage labor and develop their management skills; and
- by exploring conceptual frameworks for fair trade and highlighting examples of where it has flourished. Fair trade may offer strategies for securing labor for values-based supply chains, especially if market relations and public policies can support regional food production.
Participatory research on labor management skill development
Learning how to effectively recruit, hire, train and retain workers are critical farm management skills. The right employees doing the right tasks can take a farm to the next level of profitability. With partners in 6 states (Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, and Nebraska), this project has been investigating labor issues on small and mid-sized produce farms. Through interviews and focus groups the project has identified labor challenges facing farmers. The project team has then created resources to help farmers improve their labor management skills and decision-making. The tools and resources the project has developed (in addition to links to additional resources) are being placed on the projects website: The Farm Labor Dashboard.
John Hendrickson has been at the center of this project at CIAS. He has developed a labor cost estimator designed to help farmers understand the full cost of hired workers (include benefits and payroll taxes) and is developing a tool to help growers evaluate equipment purchases with an eye on how they can contribute to labor efficiencies.
Funding for the Farm Labor Dashboard comes from two USDA grant projects:
- Improving the Quality of Labor Management Decisions for Small and Medium-sized Farm Operators (USDA Award Number: 2014-68006-21873) examined relationships between household needs, farm structure, and market forces to understand how farmers can better anticipate the amount and type of labor needed to attain their goals. Using qualitative and quantitative methods, the team examined how farmer decisions around labor relate to existing farm structure, management style and market channels, development stage of the farm, and life stage of the family. The team used that information to develop an innovative decision-support dashboard to assist farmers in addressing their labor concerns and needs.
- Improving Labor Management Decisions on Small And Medium Sized Farms (USDA Award number 2018-69006-28096) focuses on the relationships between the existing labor pool(s), opportunities for mechanization, adoption of emerging technologies, and the level of employee skills and qualifications that best enable farmers to identify an optimal mix of labor needed to attain their business goals. The research components of this project are examining how farm labor approaches align with the farm operator’s goals, attitudes toward mechanization and technology adoption, management style and market channels. The research is also examining how different strategies align with farmers’ age, sex, and education level. Research findings will support development of additional decision-support tools and educational resources for farmers, all of which will be located on the existing farm labor dashboard.
To learn more about this project, contact John Hendrickson, email@example.com
Participatory research on fair trade
The UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) led a participatory effort to better understand labor issues on small- and medium-scale farms involved in local and regional food systems. In addition to UW-Madison researchers representing diverse fields of study (economics, sociology, human ecology, law and anthropology), project partners include the UW-Madison School for Workers, Wisconsin Farmers Union, the Domestic Fair Trade Association, the Labor Network for Sustainability, national and international labor experts, and family farmers. This project builds on and expands the work of the Agriculture of the Middle project by exploring fair trade strategies for values-based supply chains, especially for mid-scale farms. It is funded by the USDA-NIFA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).
Our research aimed to understand domestic fair trade activities and clarify opportunities to develop a values-based labor market and income stream for regional food production. We did this through participatory research, by investigating efforts to improve fair labor practices and applying lessons learned from the global fair trade experience. Mid-scale farms and food businesses are organizing to address these issues, and we engaged them in the research process to ensure that our work was grounded in real-world concerns. Our research team explored certification, negotiation, coalition building, and public policy strategies to ensure a fair return on labor and good working environments.
The team investigated ways that farmworkers, farmers and their supply chain partners are innovating to achieve a fair return on labor and just working conditions in the food and agriculture sector, and documented findings:
- Earnings, Wages, and Poverty Outcomes of US Farm and Low-Skill Workers (Barham)
- Minimum wage campaigns (Miller, forthcoming)
- Apprenticeships (Miller, forthcoming)
- Community Supported Agriculture (Lloyd, Maynard and Miller, forthcoming)
- Milk with Dignity (Frye-Levine, Janes Ugoretz, Miller, July 2019)
- Organic Valley (Burmeister, forthcoming)
- Good Food Purchasing Program (Day-Farnsworth, forthcoming)
- Project report to NIFA
We aim to get the results of this project out to the organizations and people who can put them to work. Our communications strategy includes publications for both grassroots and research audiences. Team members have given numerous presentations at Domestic Fair Trade Association (DFTA) conferences.
- Project overview presentation (2016)
- Decent Work in Agriculture (DFTA, December 2016)
- Social Injustice and Workers in Agriculture in the Global Food Chain (DFTA, December 2016)
- International Organizations Framework (DFTA, December 2016)
- Quiz on Agricultural Workers (DFTA, December 2016)
- Poster: Domestic Fair Trade and Decent Work (April 2017)
- Labor in Values-Based Agrifood Supply Chains (RSS, July 2017)
- Wisconsin Workers’ Rights Reference Cards (English and Spanish, December 2017)
- Getting to Fair: Strategies for Achieving Fair Labor (DFTA, December 2017)
- Getting to Fair: Strategies for Achieving Fair Labor (Ag, Food and Human Values Conference, December 2017)
The project is part of CIAS’s programmatic commitment to regional food systems research. For more information, contact Michelle Miller, 608-262-7135, firstname.lastname@example.org.