Hired farmworkers make up a third of the total agricultural labor force and are critical to U.S. agricultural production, particularly for labor-intensive sectors such as fruit and vegetable farms (Kandel, 2008). Regelbrugge (2007) described the nursery and greenhouse industry as one of the fastest-growing sectors of U.S. agriculture, and is inherently labor intensive with ≈40% of production costs consisting of labor costs (Kandel, 2008; Mathers et al., 2010). The most recent estimates by Hodges et al. (2011) showed that the total economic impact of the U.S. green industry reached $175.26 billion representing ≈0.76% of the national gross domestic product in 2007. The U.S. green industry generated a total employment impact of 1.95 million jobs, labor earnings impact of $53.16 billion, and $107.16 billion in value-added impact.
Continuous improvements in worker’s skills and their year-round availability are necessary to sustain the robust growth in the nursery and greenhouse industry. Most of the jobs in the industry require large amounts of stooping, lifting of heavy containers, and exposure to chemicals, dust, and plant materials (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012). These labor-intensive jobs are relatively low paying, with median wages in 2012 amounting to $8.98 per hour or $18,670 per year (O*Net Online, 2013), making it difficult for managers to compete for and retain workers in currently tight domestic labor markets. Many commercial operations have employed immigrant labor, which is mostly less skilled, to meet their rising labor requirements. The nursery migrant workforce are employed, on average 6 months, and most stayed for 10 months (Mathers et al., 2010).
A regional socioeconomic survey of randomly selected wholesale nurseries and greenhouses was conducted in eight selected U.S. southern states as a part of a research program undertaken by the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and the U.S. Department of Labor entitled “Enhancing Labor Performance of the Green Industry in the Gulf South.” The socioeconomic survey consisted of eight parts, namely workers’ demographic characteristics, nursery characteristics, nursery automation, greenhouse automation, labor and capital markets, pesticide and chemicals, working conditions, and respondents’ characteristics (Posadas et al., 2004). The overall goals of the regional socioeconomic survey were to develop a socioeconomic profile of horticulture workers and to evaluate the impact of automation on their employment, earnings, safety, skill levels, and retention rates.
The scope of this work, however, is limited to the socioeconomic aspects of the decisions involved in the hiring of permanent and part-time workers in the industry. Earlier publications using the above-mentioned databases collected from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama covered the socioeconomic characteristics of workers and working conditions (Posadas et al., 2010a), operational characteristics (Posadas et al., 2010b), socioeconomic determinants of technology adoption (Posadas et al., 2005), and socioeconomic impacts of mechanization and automation (Posadas et al., 2008). Additional publications covering all the participating nurseries and greenhouses in the eight U.S. southern states included current mechanization systems (Coker et al., 2010) and socioeconomic impacts of mechanization and automation (Posadas, 2012).
Understanding the socioeconomic aspects of the hiring preferences and employment of workers within the nursery and greenhouse industry will provide nursery and greenhouse operators, managers, and owners and horticulture researchers and extension specialists, better insights into the underlying human dimensions of the horticultural industry. The hiring decisions by demographic characteristics serve as benchmarks for assessing impacts of regulations affecting the industry in the near future. Holt et al. (1970) suggested that agricultural hired labor must become a major component of the educational, research, and extension mission of agricultural colleges. The overall goals of this work are to determine the socioeconomic characteristics of workers and evaluate the determinants of horticultural firms hiring decisions. This work aims to achieve the following specific objectives: 1) to determine the socioeconomic characteristics of workers of randomly selected wholesale nurseries and greenhouses in the eight selected U.S. southern states, and 2) to evaluate the determinants of workers hiring decisions across different socioeconomic characteristics by randomly selected wholesale nurseries and greenhouses in the eight selected U.S. southern states.
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Posadas, B.C., Knight, P.R., Coker, C.H., Coker, R.Y., Langlois, S.A. & Veal, C.D. 2005 Levels of technology adoption among horticulture firms in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Proc. Southern Nursery Assn. Res. Conf. 50:365–368
Posadas, B.C., Knight, P.R., Coker, C.H., Coker, R.Y. & Langlois, S.A. 2008 Socioeconomic impact of automation on horticulture production firms in the northern Gulf of Mexico HortTechnology 18 697 704
Posadas, B.C., Knight, P.R., Coker, C.H., Coker, R.Y. & Langlois, S.A. 2010a Socioeconomic characteristics of workers and working conditions in nurseries and greenhouses in the northern Gulf of Mexico states. Mississippi Agr. For. Expt. Sta. Bul. 1182
Posadas, B.C., Knight, P.R., Coker, C.H., Coker, R.Y. & Langlois, S.A. 2010b Operational characteristics of nurseries and greenhouses in the northern Gulf of Mexico states. Mississippi Agr. For. Expt. Sta. Bul. 1184
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