Meat and mushroom mash up bumps demand, but labour issues drag on Canada's mushroom industry

If your goal is to eat local, mushrooms should figure prominently on your list. Canada’s commercial fresh mushroom growers produce about 99% of what you’ll find at the grocery store. What’s more, about 40% of the over 130,000 tonnes of mushrooms produced are exported, mainly to the U.S., and that demand is growing, says Ryan Koeslag, executive vice president of Mushrooms Canada.

There’s a big campaign south of the border to add mushrooms to meat to increase vitamin D content and stretch the meat supply, Koeslag says. University and school lunch programs are signing on, and that’s creating even more demand for the product. Producers looking to scale-up, expand, or increase production often cite the same issue as a major holdback to moving forward: finding good labourers.

About 65 major commercial mushroom farms employee approximately 4,500 workers, but the industry is chronically under staffed, Koeslag says. Around 75% of the mushroom industry workforce is Canadian, but there’s a 9.7% gap, he says. That gap is often filled using temporary foreign workers, but the process is long, expensive, and failing to meet the long-term needs of the sector.

Even though the industry has faced a deficit of workers for decades, the temporary foreign workers program still requires that an applicant prove that there is a labour shortage, Koeslag says. That alone is six-month process, and all the while the employer has to ensure they have (and are paying for) adequate housing for that staff member, while they wait.

What’s more, he says, the industry supports more of its workers pursuing permanent residency and citizenship, as this is a full-time job in a growing industry where labour needs are not going away. But the process to allow a worker to stay, and even emigrate to Canada, is difficult, he says. Those labourers that have successfully moved to Canada permanently often stay working in the mushroom industry, but Canada doesn’t view labourers as sought after new citizens, Koeslag says.

Even still, Koeslag says the industry has been investing heavily in improved equipment and processing systems to meet this rising demand and keep Canadian mushrooms in all the grocery stores across Canada.

Listen to RealAg Radio host Shaun Haney talk to Ryan Koeslag, executive vice president of Mushrooms Canada below.

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