The nursery and landscape (Green) industry in the United States contributes $147.8 billion (Bn) to the national economy and generates 1.9 million (Mn) jobs (Hall et al., 2005) with an annual payroll of greater than $3 Bn (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002). The Green Industry is one of the fastest growing sectors in the nation's agricultural economy, often experiencing growth and expansion in periods of severe financial stress for other agricultural sectors. Recently, the growth in sales has slowed to a rate that indicates the industry may be maturing. Mature markets are those in which the rate of growth in sales is declining. Mature markets require innovative ways to rejuvenate and advance. In an industry in which labor costs account for greater than 40% of production costs and 31% of gross sales, innovations with the greatest gain might likely occur in labor use and performance. However, few formal workforce studies have been conducted in this industry. The nine states that participated in this study represent the broad economic and geographic scope of the U.S. nursery industry in terms of national rankings by nursery production sales and growing regions (Table 1). The only major U.S. nursery production region not represented was the Pacific. The project team consisted of nine agricultural economists and horticulturists who are members of the S-1021 multistate regional research project entitled “Technical and Economical Efficiencies of Producing, Marketing, and Managing Environmental Plants.” Unfortunately, a willing Pacific region collaborator could not be identified. The labor impact of the nursery/landscape industry is greatest in the Eastern region (Hall et al., 2005); therefore, lack of Pacific representation is less significant in this labor survey compared with a survey of nursery sales or production practices.
Total number of nurseries (clusters) by state (strata), region, and national ranking by sales included in survey of the nursery employees (observation units).z
The Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) (USDA-ERS) collects data from The National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS), The Current Population Survey, The Farm Labor Survey, and The Census of Agriculture/National Agricultural Statistics Service regarding the agricultural workforce (ERS, 2006). Therefore, some limited labor use data are available on demographics and employment characteristics for the agriculture industry. However, the only survey collecting demographic data regarding the nursery industry workforce specifically were conducted in Oregon and Ohio. These surveys determined that 90% and 60%, respectively, of the workforce was Hispanic (Mathers, 2003). Currently, production-level labor is presumed to be predominantly Spanish-speaking; however, few formal studies exist to support this assumption. In discussions with ornamental economists on the S-1021 committee, it was determined that no national nursery workforce surveys had been conducted regarding the workforce demographics or means of improving worker productivity and retention. This lack of information was critical considering: 1) 31% of gross sales (American Nurseryman, 2008) go to labor; 2) labor shortages resulting from the expiration of the H2-B Returning Worker Exemption and the capping of H-2B to 60,000 in 2008 (Landscape Management Staff, 2007); 3) the lack of viable immigration reform policies (Neal, 2007); and 4) the uncertain legal status of employees given the recent Social Security No-match Rule (Pacific Coast Nurseryman and Garden Supply Dealer Staff, 2007). Data of the nursery industry workforce are long overdue considering such data may raise appreciation of the industry's diversity, increase political power and public awareness, help stakeholders evaluate policy decisions, and plan corrective strategies.
The nursery industry is, as are all agricultural sectors, labor-intensive. In agriculture, 40% to 70% of production costs are related to labor (Billikopf, 2006). This cost is much higher than for other manufacturing sectors. Some nurseries report that approximately two-thirds of their annual expenses are related to labor (Studebaker Nurseries, New Carlisle, OH, personal communication). The industry's heavy reliance on labor and the need to provide technical information to workers for advancement opportunities are evident. The U.S. nursery and landscape industry is a maturing industry with average growth rates slowing from 14% (1970s), 10% (1980s), 5% (1990s) to 3% (2000s) (Hall et al., 2005). When an industry is maturing, new innovative ways to “grow the industry” are required. It follows that innovations with labor in such a labor-intensive industry could have more profound impacts than any other modernization.
We had two objectives with this article: 1) to determine the nationality, primary language, and work activities of the nursery industry worker; and 2) to assess the benefits, technical information needs, and learning/training/resources available between workers of different cultural and language backgrounds. There were many other objectives and survey findings not related to language and labor retention that are reported in Acuña et al. (unpublished data).
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