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	farm, forest, fishing boat

Input: Economic Factors

Working conditions in the Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing sector frequently involve performing intense seasonal work for long hours in harsh physical environments, often with large machinery or animals. Some of the economic factors prevalent in this sector can adversely affect the resources available for investing in safety and health, resulting in poor safety and health. Other factors, particularly related to equipment and product innovation, hold promise for improving safety and health.

The sections that follow provide an overview of the economic importance of the sector domestically and globally and its economics-related characteristics that are expected to affect the occupational safety and health of workers in positive or adverse ways.

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The economic importance and outlook of the sector
  • The U.S. Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing sector is dominated by agriculture whose productivity growth averaged 2.1% annually in 1950 - -2002: the productivity growth of private non - farm business over the same period averaged 1.2% annually. 1
  • The extraordinary agricultural productivity contributed to decreases in the labor force and the prices of agricultural products, which combined with the growth of other sectors, has resulted in agriculture being a smaller share of the U.S. economy. 1
  • In the United States, agriculture accounted for 1.5% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 2% of employment, 4% of imports, and 7% of exports in 2004. 2
  • The United States is a major player in the international food and agricultural system; the U.S. share of the global market for agricultural goods averages about 20%. 3
  • Since the United States produces much more than is domestically demanded, the economic viability of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing sector depends on its international competitiveness.
  • During the next decade, world agricultural production is expected to increase, though at a slower pace. Global consumption will increase because of population and income growth in developing countries. Real prices are expected to fall, while the share of animal products is expected to grow. 4
  • In the United States, prices of products in the Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing sector are expected to remain low, while imports of lumber and fish are expected to increase. 5
Domestic and international policies affecting the sector
  • U.S. agricultural production, prices, and income are affected by environmental conservation policies. For example, animal feeding operations (the largest producers of hogs, chicken, dairy and cattle beef) are required to meet nutrient application standards when spreading manure on crop land in order to preserve water resources from nitrogen and phosphorous run-off. 3
  • Regulations affecting harvesting, slaughter, and processing practices to ensure food safety, such as the Hazards Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) in the United States, also affect the cost of production.
  • U.S. fisheries suffer from overfishing. Traditional policies that address overfishing lead fishermen to a competition for a share of a common resource during a short season, resulting in high harvesting costs and low profits, as well as undesirable environmental and safety and health outcomes. Limited Access Privileges, however, allow fishermen to harvest a share of the total allowable catch during a long season, resulting in lower costs and higher profits, as well as improved environmental and safety and health outcomes. 1
  • Governments throughout the world have been subsidizing the sector using different regulatory and policy mechanisms. For example, within the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) area, government support to producers for the agricultural sector represented more than 30% of gross farm receipts in 2004. 4
Characteristics of operations
  • The number of U.S. farms and total acres of farmland have been decreasing; in 1950, there were 5.6 million farms on 1.2 billion acres ; in 2005, there were 2.1 million farms on 0.9 billion acres. 6
  • Most (92%) U.S. farms are small (with annual sales of less than $250,000) but account for 71% of assets involved in farming, including 67% of land owned by farmers. 7
  • Approximately 8% of all U.S. farms account for 70% of the value of farm production on 30% of the farm land. 2
  • In terms of sales, large U.S. family farms (with annual sales of $250,000 or more), very large family farms (with annual sales of $500,000 or more), and non - family farms account for 68% of production. 7
  • Most U.S. farms (98%) are family farms. Large family farms often are family corporations, while the number of non - family corporations has remained small. 7
  • Farmer owners and operators have to face economic risks, as decisions have to be made a year in advance, and prices and costs need to be tracked and considered. In large farms, small errors can have big consequences. 5
  • More farms are expected to go out of business because of low prices due to overproduction. Farms also are expected to become bigger and more controlled by corporations, while low wages and lack of benefits for workers will continue. 5
  • In 2004, U.S. domestic commercial landings (fish brought to shore) in the Pacific Coast accounted for more than 65% of the value of all U.S. domestic commercial landings. Of these, more than 80% were in Alaska. 8
Labor characteristics
  • Unpaid family workers- including children and older adults- remain a unique feature of the sector and constitute a significant part of the sector's workforce. The fact that many family farms rely on unpaid labor to continue to operate implies that they experience financial hardship.
  • Reliable estimates of agricultural workers also are scarce because many of these workers are unpaid family members and migrant or immigrant workers, some without legal work permits.
  • Declines in agricultural jobs and income force farmers to rely on off-farm income. For many farm operators, the principal source of income is not the farm.
  • In 2002, for the first time, information was collected on whether U.S. farms had two or more operators (individuals, other than the principal operator, who are involved in managing the farm operation): approximately 62% of all farms had one operator but overall, there were 3.1 million operators on 2.1 million farms. Of all operators, about 850,000 were women. The age distribution was significantly different for second and third operators (who were younger). Women constituted the majority of second operators, men constituted the majority of third operators. The existence and characteristics of multiple operators has implications for the economic viability and succession of a farm operation. 9
    • Farms with sales of $250,000 or more were twice as likely to have multiple operators as farms with less than $100,000 in sales. Among principal operators, 63.1% report that less than 25% of their income came from the farm operation. 9
    • In a 2001 comparison of income and net worth of farm households, self-employed nonfarm households, and other nonfarm households concluded that self-employed households had the highest median income ($62,000), followed by farm households ($45,000), and other nonfarm households ($37,000). 10
  • The U.S. timber cutting and logging industry is characterized mainly by small crews of four to eight workers. 11
  • Almost three of every ten forestry, conservation, and logging workers are self-employed. 11
  • Demand for forestry and logging workers varies by season and region. 11
  • Earnings of logging workers vary by the size and geographic location of logging operations. Workers in larger operations and in Alaska and the Northwest earn more than workers in smaller operations and in the South. 11
Economic factors affecting priority populations
  • Since 1980, the non-urban Hispanic population has doubled in the United States; most have no work permits, are recent arrivals with low education, and speak very little English. 3
  • According to a study on household food security among migrant and seasonal Latino farmworkers in North Carolina, 48 of 102 households were food insecure. 1
  • According to the National Agricultural Workers Survey, 47% of teen farmworkers work and live without a parent. 13
  • Most farm children work on family farms; children who work long hours are at greater risk of illness anf injury/. Some evidence shows that children who work long hours are older, have less educated parents, live and work on low productivity farms, and live in households that allocate less money on household expenditures. 14 However, more research needs to be conducted on the relationship of economic stress and child work hours on family farms.
  • The average age of all U.S. principal farm operators in the 2002 Census was 55.3 years of age; 26.2% were 65 or older; the percentage of those 35 and less has been declining. 9

NIOSH Fatal Occupational Injury Cost Fact Sheet: Agriculture
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2006-151 (September 2006)
Includes the number, rate, and costs of fatal occupational injuries in the U.S. agriculture industry by selected characteristics, 1992–2002.

Other NIOSH Cost Fact Sheets:


  1. Executive Office of the President and the Council of Economic Advisers [2006]. Economic Report of the President, 2006. [ ]. Date accessed: March 17, 2006.
  2. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development [2005]. Agricultural Policies in OECD Countries: Monitoring and Evaluation 2005 Highlights. [ ]. Date accessed: March 17, 2006.
  3. Economics Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. [ ]. Date accessed: March 17, 2006.
  4. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations [2005]. OECD-FAO agricultural outlook: 2005- 2014. [ ]. Date accessed: March 17, 2006.
  5. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor [2006]. Career guide to industries, 2006 - 07 Edition, Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing. [ ]. Date accessed: March 17, 2006.
  6. National Agricultural Statistics Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Quick Stats. [ ]. Date accessed: March 17, 2006.
  7. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Agriculture fact book 2001 - 2002. [ ]. Date accessed: March 17, 2006.
  8. National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. Fisheries of the United States - 2004. [ ]. Date accessed: March 17, 2006.
  9. Allen R, Harris G [2005]. What we know about the demographics of U.S. farm operators. Paper presented at the 2005 Agricultural Outlook Forum. [ ] Date accessed: May 14, 2008.
  10. Hopkins J, Morehart, M [2004]. Assessing farm household well-being-beyond farmers and farm income. Amber Waves, February 2004. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. [ ]. Date accessed: March 17, 2006.
  11. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor [2006]. Forest, conservation, and logging workers. Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006 - 07 Edition. []. Date accessed: March 17, 2006.
  12. Quandt SA, Arcury TA, Early J, et al [2004]. Household food security among migrant and seasonal Latino farmworkers in North Carolina. Public Health Reports 119 :568 - 576.
  13. Cooper SR, Cooper SP, Felknor SS, et al [2005]. Nontraditional work factors in farmworker adolescent populations: implications for health research and interventions. Public Health Reports 120 :622 - 629.
  14. Kim J, Zepeda L [2004]. Factors affecting children's participation and amount of labor on family farms. Journal of Safety Research 35 :391 - 401.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. BLS Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2004 Industry Specific Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates [ ]. Date Accessed: March 17, 2006.

Childhood Agricultural Injuries

North American Guidelines for Children's Agricultural Tasks
The North American Guidelines for Children's Agricultural Tasks (NAGCAT) assist parents in assigning farm jobs to their children 7 - 16 years of age, living or working on farms

National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety

Commercial Fishing

Dangers of Entanglement During Lobstering
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2005-137 (August 2005)
Lobster fishing is a hazardous occupation that has resulted in drownings from entanglement in trap line and being pulled overboard. A survey of 103 lobstermen developed recommended work practices and controls to (1) reduce entanglement, (2) escape entanglement, and (3) provide opportunities to reboard the vessel.

Proceedings of the International Fishing Industry Safety and Health Conference
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2003-102 (October 2002)
The findings in this document represent health and safety recommendations for commercial fishermen, from some of the most knowledgeable researchers in the world. This proceedings volume contains articles from commercial fishing safety experts from the Nordic Nations, United Kingdom, Argentina, Canada, Israel, and other areas, as well as articles from researchers throughout the United States.

Surveillance and Prevention of Occupational Injuries in Alaska: A Decade of Progress, 1990-1999
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2002-115 (May 2002)
A Decade of Progress provides a good overview of the dangerous conditions that many workers in Alaska face in the commercial fishing and aviation industries. The book contains a chapter on commercial fishing that outlines the working conditions of commercial fishermen, the safety problems they encounter, and the progress that has been made in reducing work-related deaths in this industry.

Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA)
AMSEA's goal is to reduce loss of life and injury due to hypothermia and drowning in cold water environments through public education and training.

U.S. Coast Guard - 17th District
Provides information about commercial fishing and other maritime issues, from a national perspective.

The North Pacific Fisheries Observer Training Center (OTC)
Anchorage began training fisheries observers in October 1991.

National Transportation Safety Board - Marine
Provides online system to request marine accident reports.

Alaska Department of Natural Resources - Office of Boating Safety
The State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources Office of Boating Safety has links for recreational boating in Alaska.

National Marine Fisheries Service
The National Marine Fisheries Service's Alaska Regional Office web site contains lots of information about commercial fisheries

Alaska Sea Grant College Program
Provides information on commercial fishing safety, training programs, and research projects

North Pacific Fishing Vessel Owners' Association - Vessel Safety Program
Provides safety education and training for mariners.

Forestry and Logging

Mechanical Timber Harvesting Reduces Workers' Compensation Injury Claims in West Virginia
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2005-129 (May 2005)

Non-fatal injuries in the West Virginia logging industry: Using workers' compensation claims to assess risk from 1995 through 2001
American Journal of Industrial Medicine 44(5):502-509.