Oregon’s Agriculture Sector

by Pat O'Connor

January 20, 2022

Agriculture is the longest-standing industry to exist in Oregon. In fact, long before America’s westward expansion in the 19th century and even before Lewis and Clark’s famous expedition that led them to the Oregon territory, Native Americans in the area already had an agriculture industry at work that included hunting, trapping, harvesting, and preserving food. On Lewis and Clark’s expedition, they documented the plants growing in the region and also wrote about the agricultural practices of the Native Americans in the area.

The way the industry appeared in the early 1800s would have been almost unrecognizable compared with what the industry has evolved to more than 200 years later in what is now the state of Oregon. As Oregon grew as a territory, later becoming the 33rd state to join the Union, agriculture was a vital part of the economy.

Recent Employment

In 2020, the agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting sector employed almost 52,700 in Oregon, essentially matching the all-time high of 52,712 a year earlier in 2019. From 2015 to 2020 the sector showed job growth, adding nearly 3,500 jobs during those five years and growing 7%.

Within the sector, crop production added the most employment, gaining 2,900 jobs or 11% from 2015 to 2020. Animal production employment grew 75 or 2% over the five-year period. Oregon’s forestry and logging employment declined nearly 1,300 or -20% from 2015 to 2020.
Support activities for both crop production and forestry have shown strong job growth in recent years. A good example in Oregon of the types of firms in this industry would be firms that provide vineyard cultivation services.

Support activities for crop production added nearly 1,300 jobs from 2015 to 2020, growing 16%. Support activities for forestry added 500 jobs, growing 12% over that time.     

Oregon Outpaced by Nation

Oregon’s agriculture sector has grown slower than the industry nationally, in terms of its output, as measured by its contribution to Oregon’s gross domestic product (GDP). In particular, during the Great Recession the nation significantly outpaced Oregon’s agriculture sector. Prior to 2006, Oregon was trending fairly close to the nation. Oregon’s agriculture sector, in particular nurseries and grass seed farmers, were hard hit by the national slowdown in housing during the Great Recession. From 2006 to 2010 Oregon’s output in agriculture shrank 26%. Since 2010, Oregon’s GDP in agriculture has been trending upward. In 2020, Oregon’s output within agriculture was 52% higher than it was in 1997. Nationally, the industry’s output was 60% above its 1997 level.

An Older and Younger Male-Dominated Workforce

In 2020, 23% of Oregon’s private-sector workforce was age 55 or older. Oregon’s workforce within agriculture is older; 31% of its workforce was age 55 or older. On the other end of the age spectrum, agriculture also employs a larger share of young workers who are entering the workforce. Nearly 3% of Oregon’s agriculture workers are age 14 to 18; that compares with 2% for Oregon’s private sector as a whole.

With older workers and very young workers comprising a larger share of agriculture’s workforce, middle age workers are underrepresented in the industry. Workers in the 25 to 34 and 35 to 44 age groups are the most underrepresented.
Two-thirds (67%) of the workers in Oregon’s agriculture industry are men. Across all industries in Oregon’s private sector, men comprised 53% of the workforce.

Occupations and Wages in Agriculture 

In 2020, the average annual wage within agriculture was $39,900. Oregon’s private-sector average annual wage across all industries was $58,966 in 2020. Agriculture employment is heavily concentrated in one low-wage occupation. Farmworkers and laborers for crops and nurseries is by far the largest occupation within the industry, representing 37% of the industry’s employment. The table shows the 10 largest occupations within Oregon’s agriculture industry, along with the average wage for those occupations (across all industries). The average annual wage for farmworkers is slightly less than $29,200 per year. Having 37% of the industry’s workforce in a fairly low paying occupation explains a big piece of the low average wage within the industry.
Although there are many different occupations within agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, the majority of employment is concentrated within a small number of occupations. In fact, the 10 largest occupations comprise two-thirds (65%) of the industry’s total employment.

Outlook

Oregon’s agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting sector employment is projected to grow from 2020 to 2030. The 2020 to 2030 industry projections from the Oregon Employment Department project the industry will add 4,900 jobs over that period, growing 9% and slower than Oregon’s total employment, which is expected to grow 16% over that time. Over the past decade Oregon’s agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting employment grew 8,100 or 18% from 2010 to 2020. Oregon’s total employment grew 15% from 2010 to 2020.

The agriculture sector acted as a vital part of Oregon’s economy long before Oregon’s statehood was granted in 1859. That doesn’t appear to be a trend that will be changing any time soon.


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