Job Market Paper: "No Farm Workers, No Food? Evidence From Specialty Crop Production"

Zachariah Rutledge

Abstract: This study provides empirical estimates of the effects of changes in the farm labor supply on fruit and vegetable production. The results are based on fixed-effects panel regressions at the crop-county-year level of aggregation using crop production and employment data in California. I use an equilibrium displacement model to derive formulas for the estimation bias under different market scenarios, which reveal that my empirical estimates should be interpreted as upper bounds. These bounds indicate that a 10% decrease in the farm labor supply (in terms of the number of workers) causes at most a 3.8% reduction in production in the top 10 producing counties, which together produce 86% of the total value of hand-harvested crops in the state. Production effects are channeled primarily through a reduction in harvested acreage, although there are some effects on yield (the quantity harvested per acre). In the top 10 counties, a 10% decrease in the farm labor supply causes at most a 2.4% reduction in harvested acreage and at most a 1.4% reduction in the average yield per acre.

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