Although the federally mandated wage that Kentucky farms are required to pay labor from foreign countries is dropping, it actually will be rising as farms finish contracts negotiated under even lower wage guidelines.
As part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture report issued Thursday, the rate dropped to $9.48 an hour from $9.71, said Rick Alexander, executive director of the Agriculture Workforce Management Association. But about 80 percent of Kentucky farms are under contracts that require payments of about $8 an hour.
"It's going to be a big deal," he said of the change.
The change has to do with what's called H-2A labor, referring to the type of visa that's required for such seasonal agricultural workers.
The wage established Thursday comes as part of a quarterly update and is the newest under a series of revised wage rules that went into effect in mid-March. Those replaced a set of Bush administration rules that had lowered the rate in the state.
Many of those farms under contract are still under the Bush-era rules, but those contracts will be expiring, Alexander said.
"They're looking at a big hike in wages," he said.
There are about 550 contracts in Kentucky with a total of around 5,500 H-2A workers, he said. His organization, which is independent, processes the contract paperwork.
The federal rules also require that farmers pay transportation and subsistence costs from the worker's home to the farm and back at the end of the contract, according to the association.