The belt may have loosened a notch.

The 2012 Western Growers third annual Professional Compensation and Human Resources Practices Survey shows that austerity measures are less common this year.

The survey showed that a substantial number of produce companies planned for increasing merit budgets by 2% to 3%, compared with a zero to 2% increase in 2010, according to a news release from Irvine,Calif.-based Western Growers.

Of the 68 companies who participated in the survey, the release said 59 of them offer an annual bonus plan. The majority of those companies also provide bonuses or merit increases to a range of employees from executives to field personnel.

“Austerity measures previously instituted by some employers also seem to be waning,” according to the release.

The survey showed that of the companies who put in place austerity measures in 2011, just 24% will continue them in 2012; 76% said they discontinued measures such as elimination of bonuses or incentive plans.

“In order to make a qualified determination on every human resource related line item in a budget, you need a benchmarked standard of comparison like this survey,” Karen Timmins, Western Growers vice president of human resources, said in the release.

Labor costs can represent about 70% of a company’s total budget, according to the release.

The 2012 Western Growers Professional Compensation and HR Practices Survey was conducted Fran Mueseler of PeopleMatters Compensation Resources LLC. The survey was based on responses from Western Growers’ member organizations on eight executive-level jobs, eight sales/marketing jobs, 23 plant/office/field jobs and others, according to the release.

The survey is available for purchase by Western Growers members at