The federal government is attempting to harness the power of youth by creating a Canadian Agricultural Youth Council.
It will convene a group of young people who will, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), “provide valuable advice on agriculture and agri-food issues that matter most to them, everything from sustainable agriculture, market diversification and innovation, to the digital shift, intergenerational transfers and mental health.”
Council members will meet twice a year in person and additionally online, providing a forum to work with Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and others.
“The young women and men in Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sector have a valuable perspective on the challenges and opportunities facing them. I am very proud to be launching the first Canadian Agricultural Youth Council because we need to bring the voices of these young women and men to the table and ensure that they take part in the decisions that affect their future. I want our young leaders to share their vision with us and help implement it,” said Bibeau in a release about the council.
Such a plan fits, at least partially, in line with calls to action made in the widely read Royal Bank of Canada “Farmer 4.0” report. The report recommended the federal government, “should convene a national skills strategy for agriculture, together with employers, workers, educators and industry groups, to plan for future labour needs.”
It also called for industry groups to “co-ordinate efforts on a bold campaign to attract and retain more youth, women, Indigenous people and new Canadians in agriculture.”
Labour shortages, driven in part by a lack of youth in the industry, are consistently costing the agriculture sector. A 2019 study found unfilled jobs costed the industry $2.9 billion, and according to the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA), farms currently face a labour gap of 52,000 positions.
Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst, executive director of the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council said the creation of the council is timely given the industry is focused on enhancing competitiveness and supporting growth.
“By listening to our youth who are the next generation of talent and leaders, the industry can learn and make meaningful adjustments,” she said. “This will be especially helpful for informing labour solutions.”
According to the RBC report, Canada, “could gain $11 billion in annual GDP by 2030 by closing the agriculture labour gap and accelerating investment in technology.”
Doing so would bring agriculture GDP to $51 billion, “making it bigger than automobile assembly and aeronautics combined.”
“Attracting youth to careers across food production is critical,” says the report.
Senior vice-president of government and industry relations for Maple Leaf Foods Inc. Rory McAlpine suggested the creating of the council was a good move.
“We as a company have a pretty active leadership development and mentoring program where we bring new graduates into our business, so we’re very keen to promote that,” he said. “It’s an attractive industry, it’s got a massive labour shortfall. We’ve got great, interesting skilled work.”