British Columbia

Farming industry facing huge labour shortage, new study finds

Farmers switching to less labour-intensive crops, facing financial losses due to labour shortage, study says

CBC News

November 22, 2016

Workers harvest cranberries on a farm in Richmond, B.C. The Lower Mainland of British Columbia produces 20 per cent of the world's cranberries. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

For years, young people have been leaving the family farm behind for the bright lights of the big city — and a new study says this out-migration is having serious ramifications for farmers across Canada.

The Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC), a national non-profit focused on agricultural labour, has released a study that shows a widening gap between available jobs and the labour pool.

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It found 26,400 jobs went unfilled  nationwide in the agricultural sector in 2014.

The opportunities in agriculture are very bright. - Debra Hauer, CAHRC

The study predicts by 2025 the labour gap will double to a potential 114,000 unfilled jobs — more than a quarter of the entire agricultural labour force.

Debra Hauer, a manager of labour market information for the CAHRC, said every province will be affected.

"There are fewer people to take over the farm and also to work on the farm," she said.

The CAHRC's study found there were 3,000 unfilled agricultural jobs in British Columbia in 2014. Hauer said B.C. farmers reported a loss of $70 million in sales because of the labour shortage.

She said the lack of labour has forced farmers to reconsider expansion plans or switch to less labour-intensive crops.

"[They] go to more grain and oil seed rather than animal production, such as beef, because you don't need to rely on a lot of other people to work on your farm," she explained.

Factors for declining labour pool

The study found a number of reasons for the labour shortage: variable hours, seasonality, rural locations, and competition from other industries.

In addition the current agricultural labour force is a lot older than the general population. The study found 16 per cent of the agricultural labour force is over the age of 65, versus four per cent of the general labour force.

While technology has helped diminish some labour demand, Hauer said there are jobs — like farm manager — that cannot be replaced with technology.

This data-gathering drone is one such technology used on Canadian farms. Debra Hauer says while technology has made farming more efficient and decreased some demand for labour, it cannot replace all positions. (Scott Anderson/The Daily Journal/Canadian Press)

She said her organization is encouraging young people to think about farming as a career.

"The opportunities in agriculture are very bright," she said. "Both for high school jobs as farmers and other high-skilled jobs that involve the use of technology."

The B.C. government reported the province had $13 billion in sales of agricultural and seafood products in 2015. Farmed salmon, dairy products, blueberries and mushrooms are some of the province's top crops.

With files from Daybreak North


To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled Farming industry facing huge labour shortage new study finds

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