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Canada’s agriculture sector on cusp of significant growth and transformation: RBC


A new report from RBC, entitled Farmer 4.0, estimates Canada’s agriculture sector’s gross domestic product (GDP) could reach $51 billion in output by 2030 – up from $32 billion today – if the right investments in people and technology are made.

According to Farmer 4.0, the country could be short critical skills – data analysis, robotics and global sales, among them – that will be needed to transform the sector across a projected labour shortage of agricultural workers. However, with the correct skills mix, agriculture could add another $11 billion to Canada’s GDP and make the sector more productive than auto manufacturing and aerospace combined.

Farmer 4.0 is the result of a four-month study by researchers and economists on the changing skills demands in agriculture, which combines data analysis with interviews with people on the front lines of the farming revolution.

Yet the report cites a number of challenges that may undermine the sector’s prospects. The current shortage of Canadian agriculture workers is expected to grow to an estimated 123,000 positions by 2030. Moreover, new skills are required to manage the farm of the future, as automation and new and emerging technologies become as essential to farming as water or fertilizer.

These challenges are exacerbated by a number of structural issues. Canada’s rural population growth has remained flat for the past 30 years, which makes it harder to address labour shortages. Additionally, the bulk of the sector’s capital is held in large, illiquid assets such as farmland and barns. And high operating costs hamper a producer’s ability to invest in new technologies. These and other factors have resulted in uneven adoption and usage of advanced technologies across the country.

A number of the report’s recommendations come from RBC’s consultations with a wide range of stakeholders, including producers, industry groups, and academia on the sustainability of the agriculture workforce and the opportunities presented by new technologies. Additionally, the report urges:

  • The federal government to convene a national skills strategy for agriculture, together with employers, workers, educators and industry groups, to plan for future labour needs
  • Industry groups to coordinate efforts on a bold campaign to attract and retain more youth, women, Indigenous people and new Canadians in agriculture
  • Canada’s work-integrated learning strategy to incorporate agriculture as a key sector, to increase exposure for non-agriculture students across the agri-food industry
  • Ensure all major research and development initiatives, such as the Protein Supercluster, are linked to education and skills development
  • The federal government should reduce barriers to high skilled immigration to agriculture, and consider a dedicated service channel under the Global Skills Strategy
  • Accelerate the development of industry-wide data governance standards, in accordance with Canada’s Digital Charter, to increase access to the best data and insights on food production
  • Fulfill the federal commitment to provide high-speed Internet to the remaining 1.5 million rural and remote households within 10 years, giving them access to online learning and cloud computing
  • Learn and apply lessons from countries like the Netherlands, Australia and Israel on approaches to agricultural human capital
  • Recognize agriculture’s centrality to Canada’s future health and prosperity

“Feeding a hungry world presents a historic opportunity for Canada if we can figure out how to better match people, capital and innovation in the agriculture space,” said Stackhouse. “We believe Canada can once again be an agriculture superpower, and do it in a way that cuts greenhouse gas emissions, and supports thousands of communities that still help to define our country.”