E.g., 04/21/2024
E.g., 04/21/2024
Ripe with Change: Evolving Farm Labor Markets in the United States, Mexico, and Central America
February 2013

Ripe with Change: Evolving Farm Labor Markets in the United States, Mexico, and Central America

This report assesses trends in U.S., Central American, and Mexican agriculture and their implications for farm labor markets, including the demand for skills and its effects on education and workforce development. 

The demand as well as the supply side of the North American farm labor market is evolving. Access to an abundant supply of low-wage labor predominantly from Mexico has long been the comparative advantage of U.S. agriculture.  Yet Mexico is in the transitional phase of being both farm labor exporter and importer: serving as the major supplier of hired labor to U.S. farms but increasingly also relying on farm workers from Guatemala. With educational attainment and incomes rising throughout the region, albeit at varying paces, workforces throughout the region are becoming less agricultural. As the global demand for labor-intensive agricultural products is expected to continue to rise, there is evidence that the supply of farm labor in the region is decreasing and that, in the future, farmers throughout the region will find themselves competing for a dwindling number of local farm workers. 

The authors examine the changes in the volume and composition of production and trade, the supermarket revolution in Latin America, training and education changes, and the implications of these changes on workers and migration. If episodes of labor scarcity increase and more pressure is put on seasonal farm worker wages, there will be more incentives for labor-saving mechanization and management strategies and would raise the possibility of recruiting workers from Asia.

Table of Contents 

I. Agricultural Production and Employment

II. Human Capital: Worker Characteristics

III. Implications for Migration

IV. Policy Directions

V. Conclusions