|Abstract or Summary
- Oregon is one of several states to implement a new and innovative minimum wage
policy. The Oregon policy defines three regions with each having a separate initial
minimum wage and a different set of incremental increases over the next seven years.
This paper explores how this policy change may impact the direct market (DM)
agricultural sector through two questions: What impact, if any, will the Oregon minimum
wage increase have on DM farmers and their employees? What are the environmental,
economic, and social implications of this policy change for the DM sector? The
Willamette Valley region of Oregon is well suited for this study as it has a vibrant food
system with many small-to-mid sized, diversified farms that sell through direct and
intermediated marketing channels. These DM farmers often take extra steps to protect the
environment, but are heavily reliant on low-wage labor to keep the prices they charge
competitive with larger scale conventional growers. Eighteen qualitative, semi-structured,
open-ended interviews were conducted with DM farmers in the Willamette Valley to
explore the adjustments producers might use to adapt to the minimum wage increase.
Labor saving adjustments are documented which imply some reduction in labor use by
these DM farms in response to the minimum wage increase. The Ingram and Schneider
theory of social construction and policy design is then used to develop policy
recommendations. Based on my interviews with DM growers, I recommend that the
Oregon minimum wage increase remain as it is, with the caveat that the policy may need
to be revisited in the coming years as the increase continues to take effect. I also discuss
the implications of three alternate policy recommendations to consider moving forward.