Canada’s Agricultural Sector In Crisis Due To Labor Shortage

By Reina Ilagan

Dec 03, 2016 09:19 AM EST

Labor shortage in Canada's agricultural sector, which have already doubled over the past decade, is expected to double again by 2025, according to a report.

The report, "Sowing the Seeds of Growth: Temporary Foreign Workers in Agriculture," was based on the findings from a three-year agriculture labor market research project conducted by the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council.

The persistent demand for agricultural workers poses a challenge for the sector, with a large portion of the farmland predicted to lie fallow unless a robust migrant worker program is launched.

According to the study of the Conference Board of Canada, the number of unfilled jobs may reach 113,800. Problems with recruitment and retention contributed to the growing labor shortage in the sector, as well as the aging workforce, rural location of operations, and the negative perception about working in the sector.

"A growing labor gap in agriculture is being driven by a combination of circumstances, including an aging workforce, large seasonal fluctuations in employment, the rural location of many operations, and negative perceptions about working in the sector," said the study.

The study also reported that paying Canadian workers more or buying more machines will not eliminate the sector's need for temporary foreign workers.

Currently, 12% of the country's agricultural workforce are migrant workers, filling about three-quarters of the labor gap. During peak seasons, the sector needs about 100,000 or 30% more workers than at seasonal lows.

The latest government data indicated that 177,704 migrant workers were given work permits in 2014. It included 45,281 agricultural workers and 41,002 lower-skilled workers, many of which were on farm work.

The survey showed that 40% of the farm operators said that the physicality of the work is a factor to the falling labor retention.

Last year's record revealed that farm workers put in an average of 44.8 hours per week, compared with other sectors' average of 35.9 hours. Aside from the working hours, the workers in the sector receive below-average pay. Farm workers made an average of $684 a week, significantly lower than $923 received by all other sectors.

"Many farm operators reported that overtime, fatigue and stress for existing workers was a major outcome of labor shortages. In other words, long hours appear to be both a result of and a contributor to the labor shortages being experienced in agriculture," said the report.

With Australian and American operators also actively recruiting migrant workers, Canada faced a competition for low-skilled farm workers. Farm operators in the country cannot increase the wage to be offered to workers as the prices of their products are generally set with a ceiling.

The country's existing immigration programs were also found to not be helpful in answering the needs of the sector.

"With federal immigration policy geared toward higher skilled labor, there is limited facilitation for permanent residency for lower skilled occupation, even though agriculture has a critical need for these workers," the study noted.

Aside from easier access to permanent residency for migrant farm workers, the study also recommended a "trusted-employer" program.

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