NIOSHTIC-2 Publications Search

On shaky ground: farm operator turnover in California agriculture.

Davis, CA: The California Institute for Rural Studies, 1996 Nov; :1-42
California's agriculture industry has experienced impressive growth in the last twenty years, growing faster than the nation's economy as a whole. This growth and the possible economic rewards have made farming an attractive venture. But at what risk, and what are the results for farmers both new and old? What are the factors that lead some farms to economic success and others to disaster! This report looks at these issues through examining farm operator turnover in two California counties, Fresno and Monterey. Farm operator turnover as a concept can be accessed using two different measures, both of which are explored in this report. The first is attrition rates, which capture farm business closures during the five-year study period. The second measure is the turnover rate, which includes new farm ventures as well as farm closures during the study period. These two separate analyses were done by using the California Institute for Rural Studies (CIRS) Farm Operator data base as a source for longitudinal information on crop farm operators. The study finds that yearly turnover is unexpectedly large and is quantitatively similar for the five-year interval in both counties. The attrition rate is somewhat smaller than the turnover rate, which includes farms not enumerated by the attrition rate. For Fresno County, the attrition rate is 5.4% per year and the turnover rate is equivalent to 7.7% per year, implying a nominal 100% turnover of farm operators in Fresno County in just 13 years. Monterey County has an attrition rate of 6.2% per year and a turnover rate of 10.8% per year, implying a nominal 100% farm operator turnover within 10 years. Although these rates are quite high, a positive side can be seen from the turnover rate, which found 1,800 new farm start-ups during the five-year period in Fresno County, and 410 in Monterey County. These figures suggest that the economic growth of the agriculture industry is a great incentive to entering farming. However, as the attrition and turnover rates suggest, success is not always easily achieved. Economic instability, although always present in farming, is more common in certain crops than in others. Annual crops, such as fresh market green beans, tomatoes and strawberries were found to have higher attrition rates than those for perennial crops. In addition, smaller farms were found to have much higher attrition rates than larger farms, suggesting a strong correlation between farm size and economic stability. Thus those farms whose inputs are the lowest, i.e. farms with small amounts of land planted in annual crops, also run the highest risk of failure. Economic instability is further analyzed in detail for Monterey's strawberry industry, where newcomers are likely to be of Latino/Hispanic origin and plant medium-sized farms. However, the attrition rates show that the likelihood of succeeding as a strawberry farmer is greatest among nonHispanic, large acreage farms, and is least among small Hispanic-owned farms. Thus the report's main finding is that high turnover rates exist alongside the substantial economic growth of the agricultural industries of these two counties. An explanation for this is that funding appears attractive to the entrepreneur despite being extremely risky for the newcomer who cannot afford high input costs. In Monterey County, nearly as many new farmers entered the business as left, and in Fresno four new farms started up for every five that quit the business. Clearly there exists a strong interest in farming as an economic venture. However outreach is needed to aid new farmers, and lending practices and resource policies should help encourage, not discourage these farmers in order to insure that California agriculture remains a healthy and growing industry while still being accessible to the small-scale entrepreneur.
Agricultural-products; Agricultural-workers; Agriculture; Farmers; Fertilizer-industry; Fertilizers; Food; Food-contaminants; Food-handlers; Food-processing-workers; Pesticide-residues; Pesticides; Pesticides-and-agricultural-chemicals; Occupational-exposure; Occupational-hazards; Occupational-health; Occupational-respiratory-disease; Crop-spraying; Environmental-exposure; Environmental-hazards; Environmental-health; Environmental-health-monitoring; Environmental-pollution; Environmental-protection; Environmental-stress
Don Villrejo, The California Institute for Rural Studies P.O. box 2143 Davis, CA 95617
Publication Date
Document Type
Funding Amount
Funding Type
Cooperative Agreement
Fiscal Year
Identifying No.
Source Name
On shaky ground: farm operator turnover in California agriculture
Performing Organization
University of California - Davis
Page last reviewed: September 2, 2020
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division