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Various reasons for farm labour shortage

April 5, 2016 - On March 15, 2016, the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) released preliminary findings from their Labour Market Information research – and it was not a rosy picture. There is currently a labour shortage of 59,000 agriculture employees across Canada and that is expected to rise to 114,000 by 2025.

The three main factors attributed to the labour shortage are that the work is seasonal; the wages are relatively low compared to other sectors; and it's difficult to get people to live in rural areas. On the operator side of the labour force equation, the aging demographic of Canadian farmers have them retiring at a rate far greater than new farmers are getting into the business.

According to Theresa Whalen with the CAHRC, when farmers were asked what impact the labour shortage was having on their farms, they said it means losses of opportunity and therefore money. The research indicated that one in five operators has reduced their interest or ability to invest in business growth due to chronic labour shortages. That losses in business opportunities added up to $1.5B per year or three per cent of the agricultural industry's total value in sales and production.

"This figure only takes into account primary production as food and fibre processing were not part of the research," noted Whalen. "Further, the situation also negatively affects the export potential of Canada's entire agri-food industry."

CAHRC will be rolling out more new Labour Market Information this spring with specifics broken down by province and commodity. As part of the rollout, CAHRC is offering "sneak peek" webinars to commodity associations and provincial ministries to assist them in understanding the research results and what it means to them specifically. The webinars offer an opportunity to ask questions and understand what the data is saying so more meaningful communications materials can be prepared, such as news releases, and have them vetted by CAHRC for accuracy prior to release. Ultimately, the "sneak peek" offers commodities a "no surprises" path forward from the research.

"It is imperative that we align our research with the needs of farmers," explains Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst, executive director of the CAHRC. "So far we have done webinars with the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and the Canadian Cattlemen's Association. Both found it very valuable to ask questions of the research team to clarify the current state of labour in the industry. The Council will continue working with them to help find solutions. This labour shortage issue will not be resolved easily – we are all going to have to work together to find the solutions."

The Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council works with industry leaders, governments and educational stakeholders to research, develop and communicate solutions to the challenges in employment and skills development in primary agriculture. The Council now leads collaborative implementation efforts in support of the national Workforce Action Plan for the agriculture and agri-food sector. For more information visit www.cahrc-ccrha.ca.