In a year that saw double digit increases in fertilizer and fuel costs, a new government report says the cost of labor was a relative bargain in 2011.

The 2011 Farm Production Expenditures annual report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports labor costs declined from $27.3 billion in 2010 to $26.8 billion in 2011.

Labor accounted for 8.4% of farm expenditures in 2011, down from 9.4% in 2010.

In California, the USDA reported that labor expenses declined from 26.5% of all expenses in 2010 to 24.5% of all expenses in 2011. California’s labor expenditures in 2011 were $7.63 billion, down from $8.02 billion the previous year.

The USDA report showed the wide disparity in labor costs in the Midwest compared with Western states. Labor accounted for just 3.5% of the total expenditures of a farm in Nebraska, but 24.5% of total expenditures in California.

The moderating trend for labor expense stood in contrast to other costs.

The report’s executive summary notes 2011 total farm expenditures U.S. rose 10.2% compared with 2010. The USDA said all expenditure items except labor and interest rose compared with the previous year.

Diesel costs were up 23.7% in 2011 compared with 2010, while fertilizer costs were up 20.6% for all U.S. growers last year.