Labour shortages in Canada’s farming industry could grow to 114,000 by 2025 if the current way of bringing in foreign workers continues.
That is the opinion of two key farming industry figures, who have called for the creation of an immigration program specifically for agricultural workers.
Mark Wales and Mark Chambers, co-chairs of the Agriculture and Agri-Food Labour Task Force, say that the current industry job vacancy rate of 7 per cent translates to $1.5 billion in lost sales.
Canada’s Farming Industry in Numbers
- Farming and processing contribute $100 billion and almost 7 per cent to Canada’s GDP.
- Agriculture feeds 37 million Canadians.
- Current labour force gap: 60,000 workers.
- Projected 2025 gap: 114,000 workers.
- 7 per cent vacancy rate costs $1.5 billion in lost sales.
- $25 an hour to drive a combine in Saskatchewan.
- Seasonal workers are 53 per cent of farming workforce.
- International workers are 12 per cent of farming workforce.
“The food we buy in the grocery store relies on people: farm and food businesses and workers who plant, grow, harvest, prepare and package Canada’s agricultural products,” the pair say, in an article for the Globe and Mail.
“Unfortunately, farmers and processors struggle to find enough workers.”
Wales and Chambers make an argument for an ‘agriculture and agri-food work force program’ specifically designed for the needs of the industry, which currently brings in staff under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
The pair say the industry always looks for Canadians first when it comes to fulfilling its labour needs.
But despite competitive wages – they say a combine driver in Saskatchewan gets $25 an hour – there remains a shortage too big for the current TFWP to make up.
How Wales and Chambers See An Agricultural Worker Immigration Program
“This plan would be about fairness. It would allow for an immigration pathway to permanency for farm and food workers, along with common-sense fixes to programming that make sense for farmers, agricultural workers, primary processors and Canadian consumers. Agriculture workers make up the majority of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, so an agriculture and agri-food program makes good sense.”
A review of the TFWP was recently conducted by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. You can read the report here.
The report acknowledges the labour gap in the agriculture industry, putting it down to “rural locations where the industry operates, as well as to the seasonal, physical and strenuous nature of the work that is required.”
Immigration Minister John McCallum is planning changes to the program following the report, although the creation of a specific and separate new agriculture program seems unlikely.
More likely are changes in the current system to make it quicker and easier to bring in agricultural workers.
“Next time we go to the grocery store, let’s acknowledge the good work of farmers and food processors and that agriculture work and skills deserve to be valued,” Wales and Chambers write.
“It’s important; it’s our food after all.”
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