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A labour, looming labour challenge in agriculture

A Larger, Looming Labour Challenge

September 26, 2017  By Dave Harrison

October 2017 – The best grower in Canada working with the most high-tech facilities with only premium varieties still needs one important factor in place before they can harvest and market a profitable crop.

Good labour.

Farming is as much about people as it is about plants. Even the most automated of greenhouses requires skilled trades people and highly trained operators to keep things running efficiently.


The Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) recently hosted an AgriWorkforce Roundtable to discuss challenges and possible solutions to address the critical – and growing – agricultural labour shortage.

Marc Smith, the retired assistant director of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva and senior extension associate, offered an international perspective on shared agricultural labour challenges being experienced in the U.S. and Canada.

Smith started off by identifying several trends in the U.S. agricultural labour sector:

  • Regardless of government policy, people seeking employment in agriculture will be scarce.
  • Economic and other motivations to develop and adopt labour-saving technologies are growing.
  • Political and economic pressures will force minimum wages higher in many states.
  • Perception of agriculture as an unattractive field for careers is a perennial challenge.

Sound familiar?

“In Canada the gap between labour demand and the domestic workforce in agriculture has doubled from 30,000 to 59,000 in the past 10 years and projections indicate that by 2025, the Canadian agri-workforce could be short workers for 114,000 jobs,” notes CAHRC communications and marketing specialist Theresa Whalen. “This was a key finding of Labour Market Information (LMI) research by CAHRC entitled Agriculture 2025: How the Sector’s Labour Challenges Will Shape its Future.”

That report noted that “among commodities, the ‘greenhouse, nursery and floriculture’ industry will continue to have the largest labour gap. With an expected gap of 27,000 workers in 2025, this commodity group will account for nearly one-quarter of the sector’s labour gap.”

Several years ago an Ontario cucumber grower emphasized to me how valuable off-shore labour was to the industry; there were simply not enough local workers willing to work in agriculture.

He then related how one of his long-time offshore workers was not returning this particular year, but for a very good reason. The worker had saved enough money working in Canada for several years to be able to invest in his own farm back home to the point where it had become a full-time and sustainable business. That’s only one example of how the program is valued by the temporary workers.

Foreign temporary workers are an essential resource. It’s a win-win-win situation – for the economy, for the employers and for the employees.

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