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Worker shortages mean tougher times for beef and pork producers

Foreign workers will be part of the solution, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council says

Labour shortages will restrict growth in the beef and pork sectors during the next decade, says the latest analysis from the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC).

It says that “a widening labour gap threatens to limit the profitability and growth of Canada’s red-meat industry.” The council is examining 11 agriculture sectors. It has already released a report on grain industry worker shortages as well as a sector-wide analysis.

“The gap between labour demand and the domestic workforce in agriculture has doubled from 30,000 to 59,000 in the past 10 years and projections indicate that by 2025, the Canadian agri-workforce could be short workers for 114,000 jobs,” said Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst, CAHRC executive director. “The sustainability and future growth of Canada’s agriculture and agri-food industry is at risk. It is critically important that this risk is acknowledged and mitigated in an intentional and strategic way.”

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Workers bone and cut beef at a meat packing plant in Toronto, May 22, 2003. Work continues at the plant despite several countries placing a temporary ban on Canadian beef after a case of Mad Cow disease was discovered on an Alberta farm.

The council’s findings highlighted the problems the agri-food industry faces because of restrictions on foreign workers, which the government has partially modified.

The latest study found that in 2014, the beef industry workforce consisted of 40,900 people and was unable to fill 3,500 jobs due to a lack of domestic workers. The pork industry, which employed 14,000 people that year, was unable to fill 800 jobs. By 2025, these industries are expected to see the labour gap widen significantly, with as many as 15,500 more jobs than the domestic workforce can fill.

By 2025, “more than one in four jobs in the beef industry and nearly one in five jobs in the pork industry are expected to be at risk if additional sources of labour can’t be found,” the report said. Renewed global markets and a growing demand for animal protein in emerging markets are driving a higher demand for Canadian beef and pork.

“The widening labour gap will have a significant economic impact. In 2014, labour shortages in the beef and pork industries resulted in an estimated $311 million in lost sales. In addition to financial losses, a national survey of beef and pork producers indicated a range of other issues: 23 per cent of beef producers and 38 per cent of pork producers reported production losses due to an insufficient workforce, and 21 per cent of beef producers and 17 per cent of pork producers reported delaying expansion plans due to insufficient workforce.

The most significant factor in the growing labour shortage is the retirement of these industries’ older-than-average workforces. Over the next 10 years, nearly one in three Canadian beef workers and one in four Canadian pork workers are expected to retire.

While the beef and pork industries offer a work environment with low seasonality, little variability in hours, and less physically demanding work than many other agricultural commodities, these benefits are not expected to be enough to attract enough new workers, the council pointed out. In particular, a shrinking number of young people entering the workforce and a lack of awareness among young people about the career opportunities available in agriculture will create challenges for agricultural employers in the coming years.

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