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Study: Migrant laborers valuable to horticulture industry

AUBURN, ALDespite tremendous growth in mechanization and technological advances, nursery, greenhouse, and sod production in the U.S. are still extremely labor-intensive. The agricultural industry depends heavily on laborers who can provide on-time production of highly perishable horticultural crops. Savvy employers know that a skilled and accessible labor supply is imperative for the agricultural industry's continued growth and stability.

Migrant workers account for a large percentage of the U.S. agricultural labor force. Recent congressional debates and pending changes in immigration reform legislation could have a substantial impact on the industry and, in turn, American consumers.

A study published in the April 2008 issue of HortTechnology examines and analyzes the effects of migrant labor on wages, hours, and gross sales in Alabama's horticulture industry. Using data from a 2004 survey of 2,286 Alabama "green industry" producers, researchers set out to estimate the effects of migrant labor on wages, hours worked, and gross sales in Alabama's horticulture industry.

According to Moriah Bellenger, a graduate student in the Department of Economics at Oregon State University and lead author of the research study, the presence of migrant workers in a labor force was found to raise average wages within green industry firms, but had no significant effects on hours and sales.

Bellenger stated, "Contrary to fears expressed by local workers, in this study, the presence of migrant workers appears to raise wage levels for both seasonal part-time and full-time workers. The total number of hours worked by seasonal part-time and full-time employees is also positively related to wage rates."

The study also indicated that producer's concerns about government regulations may influence their decision to hire migrant workers. Specifically, employers who perceive government regulations as a threat to their industry are less likely to hire migrant laborers. Bellenger and her colleagues at Auburn University noted that more research is needed to determine workers' perceptions of the impact of migrant and laborers on the horticulture industry.


Contact: Michael W. Neff
American Society for Horticultural Science

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