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Hired labor on New York State dairy farms: Cost, efficiency and change from 2011 through 2020

Jason Karszes and Christopher Wolf

Jason Karszes, PRO-DAIRY, and Christopher Wolf, Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics & Management, have released a new publication that summarizes cost, efficiency and changes associated with hired labor on NY dairy farms from 2011 to 2021. As average dairy farm size grows in New York, reliance on hired labor increases and the cost associated with the hired workforce is a significant expense. For most farms participating in the Dairy Farm Business Summary and Analysis Project (DFBS), hired labor is the second largest expense category after purchased grain and concentrates. With farms participating in the DFBS project for multiple years, an analysis of costs and efficiencies associated with hired labor and how they have changed over the last 10 years was recently summarized. Below are selected highlights from the 2021 hired labor publication:

  • Average herd size grew between 2.9% to 6.8% a year
  • Hired worker equivalents increased between 2.0% to 8.3% a year. One hired worker equivalent equals 2,760 hours of labor a year.
  • Total payroll expenses for the year more than doubled over the timeframe, reflecting an increase in the amount of hired labor along with increases in labor costs per hour. The total payroll costs increased on average 7.5% a year.
  • The cost per hour increased on average 3.5% a year, from $12.92 per hour in 2010 to $17.34 per hour in 2020, or a 34.2% increased from 2010 to 2020.
  • The rate of change in hired labor costs per hour from one year to the next is accelerating, with increases over 5% occurring twice in the last 4 years.
  • Labor efficiency as measured by milk sold per worker equivalent increased 0.5% a year for 2011 through 2015. From 2016 to 2020, milk sold per worker equivalent increased by 3.4% a year on average.
  • Labor costs per hundredweight of milk sold increased from $2.66 to 3.08, an increase of 15.8% over 10 years. The percent increase in labor costs per hundredweight of milk sold is less than the increase in cost per hour in hired labor, reflecting management changes undertaken by the farms over the timeframe to increase labor efficiency.
  • If labor efficiency had not improved, cost per hundredweight would have increased to $3.62.

First farm union certified in New York
Cornell Agricultural Workforce Development

New York’s Public Employer Relations Board (PERB) certified the first farm employee union at their meeting on September 27, 2021. Local 338 of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union/United Food and Commercial Workers (RWDSU/UFCW) was certified as the union to represent twelve agricultural workers employed at Pindar Vineyards in Peconic, New York on Long Island. Certification means that the employer must recognize the union and engage in a negotiation process potentially leading to a labor contract between the workers who are in the union group known as a “bargaining unit” and the employer. New York’s FLFLPA law, which authorized farm unions, provides a rapid set of deadlines to get a contract in place. When a labor contract is in place it will govern relations between the employees in the bargaining unit and the employer.

Rodolfo M., Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW member and worker at Pindar Vineyards was quoted as saying: “My coworkers at Pindar and I joined Local 338 because we want dignity and respect. Our work should be valued and only by receiving equal treatment and things like sick days and paid time off to spend with our loved ones will it be. We know that being a union member will help us get the recognition we deserve for all of our efforts.”

Farm employee unions were authorized in New York by legislative action beginning January 1, 2020. Following are a few helpful resources to assist employers who may be affected by unions or collective bargaining:

See also First farm workers union in New York State

 “Essential employee” definition expired: Quarantine orders apply to unvaccinated farm employees
Cornell Agricultural Workforce Development

Key points from a recent Cornell Agricultural Workforce Development blog post:

  • Farm employees are no longer exempt from quarantine orders.
  • The “essential” employee designation for farm employees ended when the state terminated the COVID-19 executive orders.
  • Generally, vaccinated people can continue working after an exposure to COVID-19, the unvaccinated must quarantine.

Transition Cow Tuesdays webinar series

Cornell CALS PRO-DAIRY in partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension are hosting Transition Cow Tuesdays, a transition cow management webinar series, from 12:30 to 1:00 PM EST, Tuesdays from November 2, 2021 through December 14, 2021.

Have you…

  • been working with the farm transition cow program but want to know more about the how, what and why?
  • wanted to improve the transition cow performance of your herd but need to know where to start?
  • wanted to increase the skills you bring to the farm or your farm employer?
  • been wondering where you’ll find the time to attend a course or workshop?

If so, this webinar series is designed for you! The webinars are short, to the point, and just 30 minutes. Grab your lunch and join us. Generous sponsors have enabled us to offer this series free of charge. Registration is required. One registration provides access to all the webinars in the series.

  • NOV 2 - Transition Cow Nutrition, Tom Overton, PhD, Professor of Dairy Management, Chairman of the Department of Animal Science at Cornell University
  • NOV 9 - Feeding the Transition Cow, Dave Balbian, Betsy Hicks, and Margaret Quaassdorff, CCE Regional Dairy Specialists
  • NOV 16 - Selective Dry Cow Therapy, Daryl Nydam, DVM, Faculty Director, Atkinson Center for Sustainability, Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences, Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine
  • NOV 23 - Facility Considerations, Lindsay Ferlito, NNY CCE Regional Dairy Specialist
  • NOV 30 - Calving Considerations, Rob Lynch, DVM, Cornell PRO-DAIRY, and Margaret Quaassdorff, NWNY CCE Regional Dairy Specialist
  • DEC 7 - Post Calving Monitoring, Rob Lynch, DVM, Cornell PRO-DAIRY, and Margaret Quaassdorff, NWNY CCE Regional Dairy Specialist
  • DEC 14 - Evaluating Transition Management, Judy Moody, Agricultural Resource Management Specialist, Dairy One

Healthy, Hardy Heifers: A fall 2021 virtual series
CCE Regional Ag Teams are offering a new eight-week series on heifer management topics from post-weaning to calving. This series will be offered virtually via Zoom every Friday starting October 1st, 2021 at 12:00 PM EST. Sessions will be about 30 to 45 minutes in length, with a question and answer period at the end.

  • OCT 15 - Pre-Breeding Comfort and Nutrition, CCE NCRAT and SCNY Dairy Specialists
  • OCT 22 - Hoof Health, Dr. Dorte Doepfer, UW Madison
  • OCT 29 - Repro Strategies, Dr. Julio Giordano, Cornell
  • NOV 5 - Bred Heifers, Dr. Tom Tylutki, AMTS
  • NOV 12 - Pre-Calving Nutrition, Dr. Mike Van Amburgh, Cornell
  • NOV 19 - Pre-Calving Comfort and Facilities, Dr. Katy Proudfoot, UPEI

This program is offered at no cost thanks to our generous sponsors. Registration is required for Hardy, Healthy Heifers. The Zoom link will arrive in your registration confirmation email. For registration help/questions, contact: Donette Griffith, | 607-391-2662.

Calf and Heifer Management Online Courses
Registration for a new Calf and Heifer Management Online Course is open and the course will be offered in two different formats. The Real-Time Course (offered October 29 to December 31) will operate like our previous online classes with coursework, quizzes, and homework assigned weekly. The On-Demand Course option, which is new, can be started anytime with only recorded lectures and quizzes to complete, but must be completed in six months from the start of enrollment in the course.

The Calf and Heifer Online Course will cover basic calf and heifer management principles. It is led by staff from Cornell University and industry researchers and designed for dairy business on-farm personnel (owner or employee) who are seeking to increase their knowledge of calf and heifer management. Participants should possess a formal or informal background in dairy cattle management, but not necessarily in calf and heifer management. A certificate of completion from Cornell CALS PRO-DAIRY is awarded upon completion of the course. Topics include: Calf Nutrition Pre- and Post-Weaning, Replacement Economics, Colostrum Management, Inventory Management, Genetics, Calf Health, and Housing. Registration is $250.00 per person.

Managing Performance online course registration open
Agricultural Supervisory Leadership Certificate Program

Cornell Agricultural Workforce Development has opened registration for Managing Performance, a six-week online course, offered as part of the Agricultural Supervisory Leadership Certificate program. Materials will release November 10, 2021 and live weekly Zoom discussions will be held from 3 to 4 PM EST each Tuesday from November 16 through December 21. Participation in the live sessions is highly encouraged and provides a valued opportunity for peer to peer learning and networking. Cost is $275. Course topics will include:

  • Understand motivation
  • Harness the power of performance feedback and coaching
  • Build clear and effective workplace communications
  • Set safety expectations
  • Conduct effective performance improvements

Supervisors are critical to the success of farm businesses. They have a major impact both on employees’ daily work experiences and on the production performance of the business. The Agricultural Supervisory Leadership certificate helps farm supervisors and managers learn and apply human resource management practices and leadership skills that foster rewarding workplaces and drive business results. Confident managers who thoughtfully apply leadership and management skills improve employee performance, develop teams, reduce employee turnover, and increase employee engagement. The courses within the certificate program will offer extensive practice and engagement activities to build confidence and skill sets.

Each course includes up to six weeks of instruction on topics that will build your leadership and management skills. Instruction includes a combination of prerecorded lectures, reading assignments, written exercises, live discussion sessions and quizzes. For those looking to learn more on a particular topic, supplemental videos and articles may be recommended by the instructor. To get the most out of the course, students should plan to spend two to four hours each week on combined course activities.

For questions, contact Rachel McCarthy, Supervisory Leadership Certificate Program Coordinator, at

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Julie Berry, Editor | Tom Overton, Director | Facebook

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