Grain and oilseed industry braces for a 25% labour shortfall

Over the next decade, Canada’s grain and oilseed industry is expected to see one in four jobs go unfilled due to a lack of available workers. The resulting economic impact could be devastating to the industry’s growth.
 
These findings are from the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC), which has updated its labour market forecast research with the recent release of How Labour Challenges Will Shape the Future of the Grain and Oilseed Industry: Agriculture Forecast to 2029. The report reveals that in 2018 alone, the grain and oilseed sector lost a staggering $594 million in sales due to labour shortages.
 
“At a time when the global demand for food is rising and Canada has the ability and resources to produce it, it is critical to address the shortages identified within the research,” explains Portia MacDonald, Executive Director of CAHRC. “By working together, government and industry can create a Canadian agriculture sector that employs, feeds, and thrives.”
 
The grain and oilseed industry primarily produces canola, wheat, soybeans and corn. Pulses (such as lentils and dried peas), barley, oats and fodder crops are also produced. Over 80 per cent of the industry is located in the Prairies, with the remaining producers mostly in Quebec and Ontario.
 
With a shift away from animal production over the past decade, the grain and oilseed commodities have enjoyed strong growth and are considered to be Canada’s largest agricultural industry. The industry also has one of the strongest growth outlooks in all of agriculture. However, labour challenges are threatening its stability and growth.
 
In 2017, the grain and oilseeds industry employed 38,750 workers, but was unable to fill 2,000 positions. By 2029, it will need 42,500 workers and the labour gap is predicted to reach 10,600, which means that one in four jobs will remain vacant. This situation is largely the result of two factors: the loss of 39 per cent of the current workforce to retirement and the shrinking of the domestic workforce by 6,900 workers over the forecast period.
 
With no access to the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) or the Agricultural Stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), the grain and oilseed industry is challenged to supplement its workforce with foreign workers when domestic workers are unavailable to fill positions.
 
The labour shortage is taking its toll on producers. In a survey, 87 per cent reported that labour shortages cause excessive stress for owners and other staff. Additionally, 65 per cent blamed production delays on labour shortages and 48 per cent said they caused lost production. As the labour gap widens, these financial impacts could cost the industry significantly more in terms of lost sales as well as inhibiting its ability to grow to its full potential. 
 
Some of the barriers to recruiting and retaining workers include the seasonality of the work, long hours, rural or isolated locations, a lack of workers with adequate experience, and limited opportunities for advancement.
 
To address these and other labour issues, CAHRC has developed agriculture-specific human resource (HR) tools designed to support modern farm operators in managing their workforce. CAHRC also offers AgriSkills, an online and in-person training programs, and the AgriHR Toolkit, an online resource guide with templates to address the HR needs of any agricultural business. For more information visit www.cahrc-ccrha.ca.

The CAHRC labour market forecast research reassessed the labour market supply and demand for agricultural workers, from 2018 until 2029, through surveys of 1,316 employers, 278 workers, and 110 industry stakeholders.

The labour market forecast research was funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Sectoral Initiatives Program.

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