Severe and chronic — those are the words often used to describe the shortage of workers for the agriculture industry. The numbers back up the scope and scale of the problem, as outlined in the latest Labour Market Information survey released by the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC).
The report, compiled by the Conference Board of Canada, shows that 28,000 jobs went unfilled in 2022 costing the primary agriculture industry a whopping $3.5 billion in lost sales.
Peggy Brekveld, chair of CAHRC and farmer from northern Ontario, says that that number looks to continue to increase without significant changes.
The agriculture industry has an above average job vacancy rate of 7.4 per cent. This translates to two in five employers reported they couldn’t hire all the staff they wanted, resulting in lost sales and revenue.
Long considered an issue of the seasonal, horticulture and greenhouse sectors, Brekveld says that this report shows that the year-long jobs on dairies, hog and poultry farms are also going unfilled by Canadians, leaving these sectors to focus on a brought-in workforce, such as through the Temporary Foreign Worker program. (More below the full interview)
Some challenges in labour have been answered in part through automation and mechanization, but solutions to this issue require addressing the problem from all sides, Brekveld says. This includes bringing in a workforce from other countries — a need that may be facing headwinds due to factors outside agriculture, where increased immigration overall is putting the squeeze on housing.
The hiring issue trickles all the way down to the pool of workers, too. Brekveld says that the report found that nearly a third of job ads went completely unanswered. Agriculture clearly has a branding problem.
“We want to see more people see agriculture as a place to work and grow… if we can encourage people to see agriculture as driven and innovative and not just in the farming space, but in all those associated jobs, we can make such a difference and really drive interest in an amazing sector,” she says.