Federal Bureau of Economic Analysis reports more than 53,000 farm workers in NYS

It’s a number missing from the New York State Department of Labor’s monthly jobs by industry report: farm employment.

Each month, the labor department lists the “Total Non-farm” jobs for each region and county in the state, along with job totals from selected industries, sectors and categories.

Steuben County’s non-farm jobs total was 37,800 in March. From large sectors like Service-Providing (32,100 jobs) to relatively small employment categories like Financial Activities (1,200 jobs in March), the Department of Labor keeps track of how many people work in every category of employment other than farming.

That doesn’t mean the Department of Labor figures don’t reflect some of the impact from the agricultural industry. According to economic analysts, agricultural production has a ripple effect that extends beyond the number of people employed on farms.

New York State is a major player in agriculture, and the Southern Tier Region and Steuben County are big contributors. According to the New York Farm Bureau, the agriculture industry contributed nearly $45 billion to the state’s economy in 2014 and New York farms rank third nationally in dairy production. About 20 percent of New York State's land area, or more than 7 million acres, is farmland, according to the New York State Department of Agriculture, and there are nearly 36,000 family farms in the state.

Steuben County’s farming credentials include ranking first in the state in the size of its agricultural lands (47 percent of the land in Steuben is dedicated to agriculture) and seventh in the state in the value of its ag commodities.

“Basically, (the Department of Labor) tracks the effect of agriculture only as it impacts ancillary jobs like trucking and products made from agriculture products,” said Christian Harris, a Southern Tier Region labor analyst for the state.

Farm production’s impact can be seen in the Labor Department’s jobs totals for trade and transportation, service-providing including retail, goods-producing, warehousing and utilities, Harris added.

For farm employment totals the place to look is the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), which tracks the job numbers for states and counties. The BEA counts “the number of workers engaged in the direct production of agricultural commodities, either livestock or crops; whether as a sole proprietor, partner, or hired laborer,” the agency said.

In 2017, there were 2,015 farm workers in Steuben County, the third most among New York State counties trailing only Suffolk (3,007) and Chautauqua (2,166), the Bureau of Economic Analysis said. The total statewide was 53,600.

For 2016, the number was nearly identical for Steuben County, 2,016 people employed on farms. The number of farm workers for 2015 in Steuben County was 2,050, and in 2014 there were 2,048, perhaps reflecting fewer farms or greater strength in other employment sectors.

Since 2001, the number of Steuben County farm workers has remained fairly stable, according to the BEA, usually hovering just above or just below 2,000 farm workers. The highest number was 2,053 in 2003.

Allegany and Livingston counties are both ranked in the upper half of the state in the number of farm workers, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Livingston County was ranked 23rd out of 62 New York State counties in 2017 with 1,056 workers employed on farms. Allegany County farm workers numbered 912 in 2017, placing it in the 27th position.

The number of Allegany County farm workers has climbed as high as 1,120, which was good for 22nd out of 62 back in 2001.

While the Department of Labor may not report farm employment estimates, the commissioner of the department highlighted the connection between farms and jobs in March when the state celebrated Agricultural Literacy Week.

 “I really love Agricultural Literacy Week because it provides an opportunity to engage students in a discussion about where the food on their table comes from and the jobs that that help get it there," Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said. "We can help young people understand that the agricultural industry in New York is not only growing but also changing and there are lots of exciting opportunities there.”