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AFS 401

A Research Guide for Agricultural & Food Systems 401

Project Description

Agriculture Workforce Development

Washington State Department of Agriculture

Madison Roy, Agricultural Economist, Office of the Director (

Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) supports Washington agriculture through service, regulation, and advocacy to promote and ensure a viable and competitive agricultural industry now and into the future. WSDA is interested in exploring what can be done to attract more students to agriculture and equip these students with the skills necessary to perform in an increasingly knowledge-based industry. 


Washington State agriculture has a production value of $12.8 billion and is one of the most diverse states, second only to California, in not only commodities grown but also in the composition of farms and food businesses. Washington ranks first nationally in the production of six commodities (apples, sweet cherries, blueberries, pears, hops, and spearmint oil).[1] With over 35,900 farms, 95% of which are family owned, agriculture is one of the key industries in Washington, serving as a conduit to job creation, rural economic viability, and food supply chain security.

Despite the significant value which agriculture provides to not only Washington’s economy but also producers and communities, agriculture in Washington State is threatened. While the diversity of Washington agriculture is advantageous, this diversity results in a heavy reliance on an agricultural workforce which has dwindled over the last few decades due to an increasingly difficult business environment and an aging producer population (in Washington State the average age is 58.1 years old).[2] Today, less than 2% of American’s farm and 17% of American’s live in rural areas. This translates to shrinking support for agriculture-based education and less students entering the agricultural field. Agriculture is underappreciated and often not seen as a career destination for students.

Agricultural labor needs have changed, especially in Washington’s diverse agricultural industry. Agriculture has traditionally employed laborers with lower levels of educational attainment (79% of all U.S. farmworkers have a high school diploma or less compared to 37% of the U.S.’s general workforce) but this paradigm is shifting. As the agricultural industry consolidates and automates, the need for an educated and upskilled workforce is increasing.[3] This is particularly true in Washington where specialty crops (e.g. tree fruit, row crops, vine crops, etc.) and innovative businesses are demanding a workforce proficient in management, science, technology, data, machine operation, and marketing among other skillsets.


WSDA is interested in understanding how more students can be attracted to agriculture and equipped with the skills necessary to pursue agricultural careers. WSDA has a basic understanding of the workforce needs of Washington’s farmers, ranchers, processors, and agricultural support industries. We also have a basic understanding of in-demand skill sets. WSDA would like AFS students to explore how we can be innovative in attracting, educating, and creating career pathways for the next generation.

Draw on your personal experience related to agriculture and in pursuing an agricultural degree. Use this to guide your understanding of what intrigues people to pursue agriculture. Interview people in the agricultural workforce. Focus on innovation and “re-branding” agriculture. Consider exploring what other nations, states, and/or industries have done to attract and retain a workforce. Use this knowledge as well as information and data to explore how we can attract, educate, and set students up for successful careers in agriculture.  The avenues to explore are at the discretion of your group. 



[1] USDA NASS. Value of Washington’s 2022 Agricultural Production totaled a Record High $12.8 Billion. Posted Online October 16, 2023. Online:

[3] USDA ERS. Demographic Characteristics of U.S. hired farmworkers and all wage and salary workers, 2021. Online:

Search Tips & Examples

It is going to be important how you think about keywords and synonyms. For example, the terms workforce and labor are synonyms but in practice farm workforce (link to search) and farm labor (link to search) often speak about different topics. So keep that in mind when you are developing your search strings.

To learn more about developing keywords and search strings check out this link.

Example of Potential Search: 

Note: The following keywords and search string are just a quick ideas, you may come up with better ones within your group.

Search #1

Title: farm* OR agric*


Title: work*


Title: recruit*


Any Field: migrant OR migrat*

Note: I excluded (NOT)  migrant OR migrat* because I was getting a lot of results of migratory farm laborers which wasn't necessarily salient to the topic.

Here is what that search looks like in the WSU Libraries' catalog (link)  

Search #2

Title: farm* OR agric*


Title: student* OR apprentic*


Title: recruit* OR hiring

Here is what that search looks like in the WSU Libraries' catalog (link) 

Find Scholarly/Peer-Reviewed Research

Agriculture & STEM Databases

Web of Science (Clarivate Analytics) - Arguably the best STEM database.

Agricola (EBSCO) - A small, agriculture specific, database provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Library.

Business & Labor Databases

Business Source Complete - An extensive business database which allows you to search company and industry information across popular press, trade journals, product reviews, and much more. 

EconLit - provides citations and abstracts to economic research dating back to 1969.  Includes information on accounting, capital markets, econometrics, economic forecasting, government regulations, labor economics, etc. Includes abstracts of books, journal articles, and working papers.

Note: Several of these databases are EBSCO products. This means that you can chain multiple databases together for a more powerful search. You can do this by selecting what databases you want to search (see image regarding how to do that).

Multi-Disciplinary Databases

Washington State University Library Catalog (Search It) - Allows you to  search among many different types of resources and order materials from other institutions if they are not immediately available through WSU. 


If you are interested in seeing a full list of agricultural databases available at WSU check out this link.

If you want to see all of the databases available, across disciplines, check out this link.

Find Local (and Historic) Resources

Part of your project will be understanding the historic context of labor and farming. Below are some resources that will assist.

The WSU/WSC Cooperative Extension Services will provide historic and contemporary agricultural resources pertaining to Washington State. Many of these resources have been digitized but many others are only located within the Owen Science Library.

Note: You can find Extension (and other WSU) research a couple of different ways. Theoretically, there should be overlap between the following databases but in practice it is useful to search them all.

You can search the WSU Libraries' catalog and limit your results to Washington State University and/or Washington State University Cooperative Extension within the "Author" limiter. Here's a picture of how to do that.

Research Exchange is the institutional repository at WSU. It will have a lot of historic resources but also some contemporary research. For example, the WSU/WSC has written extensively about farm labor issues in Washington. Here is a simple search.

The WSU Cooperative Extension Service also provides a list of contemporary publications. It may also be useful to look at the University of Idaho's Extension publications.

Finally, you may want to look at the resources within and the HathiTrust repository

Find Data & Reports

Federal Resources

Washington State Data & Agencies

Washington Employment and Security Office agricultural employment and wages resources.

Washington State Department of Commerce resources (including reports on farm worker housing, labor issues, etc.).

USDA NASS Washington State Agricultural Overview.

Washington State Department of Agriculture data regarding crops, acreage, etc.

As noted above, the WSU Extension services may have useful reports and data. For example, here is a link to their report "Assessing the impact of a labor shortage on post-harvest activities and markets"

International Resources

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has abundant agriculture and labor statistics.


Note: You can find data and/or reports within the WSU Libraries' catalog. Here is a search for: (Title) agric OR farm* AND workforce that has been limited to just reports. 

Find Industry & Corporate Info

For your project, you may need to examine corporate and industry profiles, trade publications, press releases, laws and court cases. etc.

Below are a few corporate and business databases to get you started. 

Helpful Industry Resources

For more in-depth information regarding corporate research, take a look at the WSU Libraries Company Research Library Guide. 

Find Newspapers & Trade Publications

Newspaper and Trade Publications

  • Newspaper Source - This database provides selected full text coverage for 245 newspapers, newswires and other sources.
  • Nexis Uni - An excellent source for searching for information within state/regional/US newspapers (including the New York Times) as well as English-language foreign newspapers and foreign language newspapers. 
  • Washington State newspaper resources (NewsBank/Readex) - Includes many Washington State newspapers including the Seattle Times and the Moscow Pullman Daily News.

For more info, see the WSU Libraries News and Newspaper Research Guide

Quick Reading List

Gregory, J.N.. (2020). Toward a history of farm workers in Washington State. University of Washington Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project. See website here.

United States Department of Labor. (2022). Findings from the National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS) 2019–2020: A demographic and employment profile of United States Farmworkers. Research Report No. 16. See report here (PDF).

White, M. & Van Leuven, A. (2023). Changes in Farm Employment, 1969 to 2021. University of Illinois FarmDoc Daily. See website here.

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