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Ag labour in the next 10 years

An upcoming survey aims to update agriculture’s labour needs for the next decade

It’s time to dig deeper into the labour shortages facing Canadian farms.

So says the Canadian Agri-Food Human Resources Council (CAHRC) which says the sector needs to understand the labour shortages facing farm operations across the country to determine the extent and cost of them.

A CAHRC report in 2014 forecast the 26,400 farm jobs that went unfilled that year would grow to 114,000 in 2025. The shortage cost the sector $1.5 billion in lost revenues, or 2.7 per cent of product sales and the damage will only grow if more workers aren’t found.

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“Resolving the labour crisis is imperative for the agricultural industry to move forward and reach its potential,” said Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst, CAHRC executive director. “Understanding the evolving needs of producers, farm workers and industry stakeholders is key in resolving the labour challenges facing the agricultural sector.

“The agriculture industry is constantly adapting and progressing,” she said. “We need to clarify the impacts of new technology, new production techniques, expanding demand, modified regulatory regimes and continued labour constraints in order to know what jobs and skills are required in the future.”

To build on the results of their 2014 survey, CAHRC has launched a comprehensive Labour Market Information (LMI) survey to examine Canada’s agricultural workforce that will run to Nov. 30.

“The survey will provide up-to-date labour market information including national, provincial and commodity-specific forecasts of agricultural labour supply and demand to 2029. The Conference Board of Canada will conduct the survey on behalf of the council and is seeking participation from more than 1,000 producers, farm workers and stakeholder organizations.”

The recent report from the Agri-Food Strategy Table called for a plan to deal with the sector’s struggle to find sufficient workers including promoting agriculture as a good career choice.

It also said the federal government needs to modernize Canada’s immigration and foreign workers programs to access the global labour force, both skilled and untrained. It called for a new labour market survey along the lines of what CAHRC is launching.

Meanwhile the Senate agriculture committee has opened public hearings on the agriculture worker shortage and in particular the challenges in getting sufficient foreign workers in Canada. The committee is expected to report on the issue.

“This survey will augment the previous LMI research and will provide valuable data to track ongoing employment needs of farmers and farm workers so that policies, programs, tools and resources can be developed to meet those needs,” said Debra Hauer, CAHRC’s AgriLMI project manager. The survey results will be made available next spring.

Funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Sectoral Initiatives Program, the council is collaborating with producers, farm workers, federal and provincial government departments, leading agriculture organizations and agricultural colleges and training providers to ensure that the labour needs of the agri-food industry are fully understood and addressed.

The council said, “Retirement and transition planning along with the inability to find people interested in farming is a huge problem. The primary barriers to recruiting and retaining farm workers have been identified as the seasonal nature of the work and that farms are often located in rural areas. As a result of this labour shortage, farm businesses are increasingly unable to produce to capacity or expand to meet growing market demand.”

The results will “help industry, governments and educators come up with labour shortage solutions.”

Among the issues the survey might provide answers to are how can farm employers identify, hire and develop qualified workers who enjoy working on farms and are willing to stay, the council said.

As well, it could identify what farm workers want to make their work more satisfying and enjoyable, so they will stay, it said. “What are the economic impacts of Canada’s agricultural labour shortage nationally, provincially and by commodity? More needs to be known of Canada’s farm labour crisis and what policies, programs and tools are needed to resolve it.”

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