Survey shows good help really is hard to find in farm sector

Good help is hard to find.

As the number of farms in Canada decrease and remaining farms grow larger, producers need to look at new methods of recruiting employees, Debra Hauer of the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council told attendees at Keystone Agricultural Producers annual general meeting.

A survey done by the organization found farm labour demands have been increasing at one per cent per year in the Prairie provinces, with 58 per cent of all respondents reporting difficulty in hiring and retaining workers.

“Employees make up a total of one-third of agricultural employment on the farm and are becoming increasingly important,” said Hauer. “Agriculture competes with other industries for labour, and the traditional source of labour in agriculture — families — is changing and becoming less available as the result of general social trends.”

There’s no silver bullet for solving the labour shortage, but added promoting agricultural work and careers beyond the farming community would increase the labour pool, she said.

Some people don’t apply for agricultural work because they lack a farming background, but Hauer said that shouldn’t be seen as a barrier. Producers and farm organizations should provide on-site training and reach out to populations expressing interest in food and farming.

“The current trend towards paying attention to the source of our food could be exploited to promote farming as a positive place to work,” she said.

Another recommendation made by the council is to improve human resource practices in the agricultural sector through on-farm training, development of human resource tool kits for farmers, and sharing information between agricultural organizations.

Data lacking

Improved data collection is needed, said Hauer, adding there are shortcomings in its main sources of data, the national census and the Census of Agriculture. For example, while surveys capture the number of weeks and hours worked in agriculture, the absolute number of employees in the industry was not recorded.

“In the population census, people identify what their occupation is, but that does not translate into farm employment necessarily,” she said.

Those surveys don’t take reliance on temporary foreign workers into account either and data on temporary foreign workers also has information gaps, Hauer said. Documents recording temporary foreign statistics don’t always reflect the amount of work these labourers do, or how many farms they work on during their stay.

Of all the sources used by the council, Hauer said the Canadian Labour Force Survey was most helpful.

“But the difficulty with that source of information, is that it may underestimate the number of seasonal and harvest workers, as well as temporary foreign workers,” said the project manager.

The council has not looked at the possibility of offering pensions and benefits to farm employees, although some at the meeting suggested that would be a way to secure a larger local workforce.

About the author

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Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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