The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) today released its annual report on farm labor.

The full report, which can be accessed at http://www.usda.gov/nass/PUBSTODAYRPT/fmla0512.txt, shows the number of hired workers was down nearly 5%, and wage rates were up nearly 2% from a year ago.

There were 575,000 workers hired directly by farm operators on the nation’s farms and ranches during the reference week of Jan. 8-14, 2012, down nearly 5% from a year ago.

Farm operators paid their hired workers an average wage of $11.52/hour during the January 2012 reference week, up nearly 2% from a year earlier. Livestock workers averaged $10.95 an hour, compared with $10.52 a year ago.

In this same reference period, the largest percentage increases in the number of hired workers from last year occurred in the Corn Belt region of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, and in Florida.

According to the farm labor report, the increase in farm labor in the Corn Belt was largely driven by strong demand for livestock workers resulting from increased cattle and hog inventories.

For the January reference week, hired worker wage rates were above a year ago in the majority of regions.