children and the elderly, many of whom would classify themselves as retired but work actively on the farm during planting and harvesting. Many children and older adults do not receive money and do not appear on farm records.

Confounding the difficulty is that the AFF labor force is known to be much larger than the corresponding level of employment; that is, at various times of the year, a great many in the AFF hired and contract labor force are unemployed and unable to find work. Finally, a large proportion of AFF workers are foreign-born, and a sizable “reserve labor pool” is in the countries of origin, including workers who may have temporarily returned to their homes.

For those reasons, it is useful to distinguish measures of “population” from determinations of “employment”. Population refers to the number of people; employment refers to their working status. Employment is often measured in terms of full-time equivalent (FTE) workers on the basis of temporal averages, usually derived from 12 monthly reports. Thus, two people who find half-time jobs in the AFF sector for a full year will be counted as a single FTE worker in measures of employment.

Even for self-employed workers, the distinction is important. To illustrate, the Census of Agriculture asks farm operators to report the number of days on which they were employed off-farm. In the 2002 Census of Agriculture, more farm operators reported having worked at least some days off-farm than reported no off-farm work. The majority of those who said that they worked off-farm at all said that they did so for 200 or more days per year;2 these farm operators might be counted twice in measures of employment, as would be the case for workers in any industry who “moonlight”, holding two jobs at the same time.


The Quarterly Agricultural Labor Survey (QALS) is the only national survey of the agriculture workforce, conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and reported in the periodical Farm Labor. The QALS has recently been called the Farm Labor Survey (FLS). The survey is limited to farm employment. Initiated in 1910 and conducted with only a few interruptions nearly every year since then, the FLS is an employer survey that obtains reports of employment and other characteristics, such as wage rates paid and hours worked. A nationally representative sample of farm operators and agricultural service firms (mainly farm labor contractors) is contacted to determine the number of their hired farm


United States Department of Agriculture. National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2002 Census of Agriculture. Summary and State Data, Volume 1, Geographic Area Series, Part 51, June 2004. Table 55. Summary by Size of Farm: 2002, p. 69.

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