New survey hopes to measure rural labour shortage

Agriculture has a people problem.

There aren’t enough people in rural Canada to work as meat cutters at processing plants, or as labourers at cattle feedlots.

At the same time, people living in cities aren’t willing to move to rural areas for seasonal work.

That’s created a massive labour shortage in Canada’s ag industry and there’s no silver bullet solution.

To get a sense of the shortage, the Conference Board of Canada plans to conduct an online survey of farmers, farm employees and others in the sector this fall.

“Understanding the evolving needs of producers, farm workers and industry stakeholders is key in resolving the labour challenges facing the agricultural sector,” said Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst, executive director of the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC), which has commissioned the survey.

In 2014, CAHRC research indicated that 26,400 jobs went unfilled in Canada’s agriculture sector. That cost the sector $1.5 billion in lost revenues.

The lack of labour is troublesome because the federal government has set a target of $75 billion in annual agri-food exports by 2025, up from $61 billion in 2015.

It’s difficult, or nearly impossible, to increase exports of things like pork, canola oil, beef, barley and honey if Canadians aren’t willing to work on farms or in agri-food processing jobs.

“Resolving the labour crisis is imperative for the agricultural industry to move forward and reach its potential,” CAHRC said in a news release.

The new survey will update the labour market situation. It will include provincial data and the labour needs for specific commodities within agriculture, and will provide a labour supply and demand forecast to 2029.

The online survey can be found at cahrc-ccrha.ca/programs/agrilmi#section-surveys.

It started Oct. 12 and runs to the end of November.

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