Despite Rising Wage Rate, Farmers Must Rely on H-2A Program

by Colter Brown

Given agriculture’s ongoing struggle to recruit domestic workers and a very tight U.S. labor market overall, it should be no surprise that H-2A program usage reached new highs again in fiscal year 2023.

In fiscal year 2023, DOL certified 378,513 H-2A positions, an increase of 2% over fiscal year 2022. This relatively small increase followed a very large increase in fiscal years 2021 and 2022, when the number of certified positions increased by 15% and 17%, respectively. Over 100,000 (103,083) more positions were certified in fiscal year 2023 than in fiscal year 2020, despite an increase of nearly 19% in the national average Adverse Effect Wage Rate (the minimum wage employers who participate in the H-2A program are required to pay).

The top 10 states for H-2A program utilization in fiscal year 2023 were: Florida (51,987), California (40,758), Georgia (37,536), Washington (35,680), North Carolina (26,146), Michigan (15,094), Louisiana (13,167), Texas (12,076), Arizona (11,301) and New York (9,919). These top 10 states, account for two-thirds of all certified positions.

From the H-2A Disclosure Data for fiscal year 2023, we know that the number of certified positions increased in 37 states and decreased in 14 of the 51 states and territories. This was down from fiscal year 2022, in which there were increases in 48 states, no change in one and a decrease in two of the 51 states and territories. Washington (up 2,631), Georgia (up 2,562) and Florida (up 1,014), all top 10 states, had the largest increase in certified positions, but the third (North Dakota, up 714), fourth (Idaho, up 711), fifth (Nebraska, up 607), sixth (Oregon, up 573) and seventh (Arkansas, up 526) largest-increase states are not among the top 10 H-2A-utilizing states. Despite a national growth rate in certified positions of just 2%, 11 states and territories had double-digit growth rates in fiscal year 2023 compared to fiscal year 2022.

It is also worth noting that in addition to growth in the number of certified positions in fiscal year 2023, there was also a 10.5% increase in number of H-2A applications that were filed. This suggests that the number of operations that are utilizing the program is also growing, rather than the growth coming strictly from existing operations. The average number of certified positions per application in fiscal year 2023 was 20, which is down two positions from fiscal year 2022.

This new record usage of the H-2A program was in spite of a record-high U.S. Adverse Effect Wage Rate – the rate most users of the program pay workers. In calendar year 2023, the U.S. average AEWR was $17.55, up 6.8% from 2022. The 2024 AEWRs were revealed on Nov. 22 when USDA released the Farm Labor Report . At $17.55, the national average 2024 AEWR breaks the previous record by 93 cents per hour. Read more of our analysis of the 2024 AEWRs here.


The incredibly tight labor market is taking its toll on businesses across industries. Continued growth in the H-2A program across a wide geography, despite rapidly accelerating AEWRs, is a strong indication that the U.S. agricultural sector has been particularly hard hit. For a growing number of operations, the H-2A program is the only viable option for staffing their seasonal on-farm jobs.

“As wage rates continue to rise along with the demand for farmworkers, farm families are being forced to take a hard look at their balance sheets just to stay afloat,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall. “Farming and ranching is a labor intensive business, and many of our crops require skilled labor to plant, tend and harvest. But margins remain slim on the farm. This data shows how important and urgent it is that we get a workable fix for the H-2A program and the AEWR.”


AFBF-Market Intel

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