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Dairy Wage Survey Results Available

Chuck Schwartau

Published in Dairy Star April 14, 2007

A good dairy to work at?

Is your dairy viewed as a good place to work? Pay scale is only a part of the answer, but it is one to consider.

In April of 2006, Gregorio Billikopf, University of California Extension Service, invited dairy employers to participate in a nation-wide survey about employee compensation.  One hundred eighty-nine farms responded and the results of that survey are now available.

Farmers were asked to report information for one milker on their farm for the month. Earlier surveys (2000 and 2003) included more classifications of employees, but there was found to be little difference between types of employees so the 2006 survey focuses on the milkers. The 25 questions covered many topics but the report focuses on only a few.

Forty-four Midwest producers responded to the national survey and nine more responded at the 2007 Minnesota Dairy Days held around the state in January. Those respondents reported an average hourly pay rate of $9.14. Relative to other regions of the country, the Midwest is on the lower side of the wage scale. Farmers in the West reported an hourly wage of $10.28; the Southeast reported $10.15; and the Northeast reported $9.12.

The West reported the longest term of employment averaging 6.1 years on the farm while the Midwest averaged only 3.5 years. Those 3.5 years is significantly lower than every other region of the country. Part of this difference may be due to the relatively recent move on Midwest farms to employ more non-family members. Farm expansion is also more recent in the Midwest as compared to other parts of the country, creating more employment opportunities in recent years.  When years of employment are combined with wages, the following table results:

Years Worked

Average Hourly Pay

1 - 3

$8.97 (actual)

4 - 7

$10.30 (actual)

8 - 12

$10.75 (statistically corrected)

13 - 18

$11.15 (statistically corrected)

19 +

$11.69 (actual)

Dairy employment can be a decent paying job. The Dairy Days survey reported milkers with total pay as high as $2400 per month.

It should be no surprise that the percentage of foreign-born employees is increasing. The predominant group of foreign-born employees comes from Mexico and Central America. In the 2000 survey, 20% of the Midwest employees were foreign-born. In 2003, it was up to 49%, and in 2006, 63% of the employees are foreign-born. This is surpassed only by the West at 88%.

It is also noted that as the percentage of foreign employee increases, the number of female employees milking is decreasing. Personal visits with dairymen support that finding.  Cultural differences account for some of this change since the relationship between men and women as co-workers is affected in part by their cultural background. The Midwest was stable from 2003 to 2006 with 15% female employees, but the West dropped from 8% to 3% in the same time period. The Dairy Days responses indicate 2/3 of the reporting farms have one or more female milkers and one reported 80% (12 out of 15) of their milkers are women.

Forty-four percent of the Midwest farms in the combined surveys provide an incentive pay program.  In the survey month (April) the average incentive paid was $286 per person.  One-third of the farms also reported providing health insurance programs to their employees at an average monthly cost of $377.  Half the farms in the national survey reported providing housing or a housing allowance as part of the total compensation package.

Billikopf reported the extra comments provided by survey participants to be quite interesting. Many farmers expressed fears about the uncertainty of immigration reform and changes in labor laws. Several pondered how they would compete in the future with non-agricultural employers for employees. No doubt, farmers should pay attention to proposals in Congress regarding immigrant workers and express themselves to the decision-makers.

On the more positive side, one farm made a deliberate move to use a veterinarian who spoke Spanish and reports, "Our dairy has a reputation as a good place to work.  We seem to always have more people wanting to work here than we have work for."

That might be a good question for Minnesota dairy farmers to ask themselves. "Are you viewed as a good place to work, or are you always looking for new employees?" Your pay scale is only a part of the answer to that question, but it is one to consider.

If you would like to see the entire wage survey report, it and earlier surveys are available at:

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