As a follow-up to their 2014 labour market research, the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) has just launched another 10-year labour market forecast to 2029. In the updated research, farmers reported that unfilled vacancies cost agriculture $2.9-billion in lost sales – an increase from $1.5-billion in 2014 – even though total job vacancies have declined.
These losses highlight the need for the agriculture sector to adapt and secure a reliable, qualified and skilled workforce, or else its ability to produce food now and in the future will be at risk.
Labour shortages are restricting agriculture’s future growth by causing production delays, lost sales, postponed or cancelled expansions and upgrades, and excessive overtime costs. Forty-six per cent of farmers who reported vacancies delayed or cancelled expansion plans.
Many farmers also reported extreme stress for themselves and their workers. Nearly 90 per cent of producers with unfilled jobs identified excessive stress and work hours as a result of not being able to find the workers they required.
Currently, about two million Canadians are employed by Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sector, accounting for one in eight jobs or 12 per cent of total Canadian employment.
Despite the need for more workers, the total vacancies in agriculture have declined to 16,500 from 26,400 as noted in 2014, largely as a result of improved productivity through better management practices and the adoption of technology. And even though vacancy rates in agriculture are the highest of any sector in Canada at 5.4 per cent (compared to the national average of just under 2.9 per cent), they have decreased from the 2014 rate of seven per cent.
Even so, labour demand is expected to rise by 0.5 per cent per year from 365,000 workers today to over 385,000 by 2029. The biggest increase will be in aquaculture, beef, greenhouses, and field fruit and vegetables.
In the absence of domestic workers, the agricultural industry relies heavily on labour from the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Foreign labour now accounts for 17 per cent of the sector’s employees.
“Continuing to find ways to make agriculture an attractive and viable career path will be an important strategy in accessing more of the domestic workforce,” says Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst, executive director of CAHRC. “It will take concerted effort, multiple strategies and a sustained approach so that we can truly make a difference.”
To address the labour issues identified in the research, CAHRC has developed agriculture-specific human resource (HR) tools designed to support modern farm operations to manage their workforce. CAHRC also offers Agri Skills, online and in-person training programs, and the Agri HR Toolkit – an online resource guide and templates to address the HR needs of any business. For more information on these and other CAHRC offerings visit www.cahrc-ccrha.ca.
The new research defines the current national, regional and commodity-specific labour status based on CAHRC’s economic model that calculated expected agricultural labour demand and supply by industry, province and occupation. The agricultural labour market research was validated through industry consultations conducted Canada-wide involving 1,900 farm business owners, employees and stakeholder organizations.