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Farm labour shortage seen costing billions, expected to rise

Ottawa | Reuters — Canada’s farm labour deficit is expected to double by 2029 to 123,000 workers, or one in three jobs, as shortages continue to hit the sector’s bottom line, the Canadian Agriculture Human Resource Council said on Tuesday.

Farmers in Canada have long reported challenges in recruiting farm workers because the rural-based work traditionally involves a high degree of manual labour, long hours, and is often seasonal.

In 2017, Canada’s agriculture sector was short 16,500 workers, a labour crunch that cost farmers $2.9 billion in lost revenues, the council said in a new report on Canada’s agricultural workforce prepared with the Conference Board of Canada.

“In the coming years, the gap between the sector’s labor requirements and the available pool of domestic labour is expected to widen considerably, a trend that would place more agricultural businesses at risk and seriously impede the sector’s growth potential,” the report said.

The agriculture industry’s struggle to find domestic workers means farmers are heavily reliant on temporary foreign labour, brought to Canada though various streams of the Temporary Foreign Worker program. Foreign labour now accounts for 17 per cent of the sector’s employees.

On Tuesday, the council said the agriculture sector’s job-vacancy rate is “the highest of any major sector in the Canadian economy.” About two million Canadians are employed by Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sector, accounting for one in eight jobs or 12 per cent of total Canadian employment.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government challenged Canada’s agriculture industry to increase its exports to $75 billion by 2025. Canada is currently the world’s fifth largest exporter of agricultural goods.

— Reporting for Reuters by Kelsey Johnson in Ottawa.

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