PEI

Student worker program renewed for farms after 'very successful' 1st year

A student work program that aims to get more young people working on farms and help with ongoing labour shortages will run again this year. 

'Labour is one of the biggest challenges facing agriculture in P.E.I.'

'It was so successful that we are doing it again,' says Laurie Loane, executive director of the P.E.I. Agriculture Sector Council, of the P.E.I. Farm Team program. This file photo shows workers in a farm field on P.E.I. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

A student work program that aims to get more young people working on farms and help with ongoing labour shortages will run again this year. 

The P.E.I. Farm Team program began last year and employed about 65 students. 

Laurie Loane, executive director of the P.E.I. Agriculture Sector Council, said the program did help local farms and was "very successful last year." 

"It was so successful that we are doing it again." 

'I think if these students have a chance to work in agriculture it will change their perception of agriculture,' says Laurie Loane, executive director of the P.E.I. Agriculture Sector Council. (CBC)

Loane said it's a good opportunity to learn about agriculture, as well as giving students extra spending money. 

Along with the wages they earn, students also get a bursary —  $500 for high school students and $1,000 for students going into college or university — if they finish their contract. 

Farms pay the wages and the cost of the bursary is shared, with 25 per cent paid by the provincial government, 25 per cent by the farm and 50 per cent by the federal government. 

Lots of jobs, not enough people 

Farms have struggled for many years to find enough workers, Loane said.

The council says their job posting service often has more than 200 jobs listed. 

It's work. There's no dressing it up, it's very manual labour, there's a lot of hands-on.— Greg MacKenzie, MacKenzie Produce

"It's very hard to attract those people to come and work on farms," said Loane. 

"We're trying to come up with new incentives, new ideas."

'Wasn't a good match'

Greg MacKenzie, owner of MacKenzie Produce in Stratford, P.E.I., runs a mixed vegetable farm. He had to leave about four hectares (10 acres) of cabbage in the field last year because they didn't have workers to harvest it. 

"We've noticed the last four or five years it's been more of a headache to get employees," MacKenzie said. 

He hired several students through the program but said it wasn't a good fit for their farm. 

'It's very hard to try and attract those people to come and work on farms,' says Laurie Loane, executive director of the P.E.I. Agriculture Sector Council. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"It wasn't a good match" he said. "Labour work isn't real popular." He described work on the farm as similar to a boot camp. 

"It's work. There's no dressing it up, it's very manual labour, there's a lot of hands-on," he said. 

MacKenzie has decided to bring in six foreign workers from Mexico this year for the first time. 

Student job versus career

The P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture says the summer job program is important for the future of farming.

'It's been an ongoing challenge for a number of years,' says Robert Godfrey, executive director of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture, about labour shortages on farms. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"Labour is one of the biggest challenges facing agriculture in P.E.I.," said Robert Godfrey, executive director of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture.

"It's important to expose people to what farming is." 

Godfrey said he hopes some young people who get work through the program will consider farming as a career. 

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