In April 2020, the National Farmers Union – Ontario (NFU-O) embarked on a farm labour project to study agricultural labour issues on small and mid-sized farms. The mixed method study included a survey of 772 farm operators and workers, stakeholder consultations, informal interviews, online group discussions, and a literature review.
In response to farmers’ input, the NFU-O found a need to reframe the discussion on the agricultural labour crisis to better understand how labour shortages are felt and understood within smaller operations compared with large agribusinesses. The voices of farmers committed to creating local, just, and sustainable food systems are too often drowned out by corporate lobbyists.
“Three decades of free trade agreements combined with the neoliberal gutting of our social safety nets has created unprecedented financial precarity for the essential workers who grow our food. Global supply chains and the erosion of the social safety net has only exacerbated our historical reliance on unpaid, low-paid, and unfree agricultural labour.” – Excerpt from the report
Key findings include:
• Small to mid-sized farms are robust agricultural job creators (farms under 70 acres were more likely to employ Ontarians than their larger counterparts).
• Many small farms provide extensive farm training and are knowledge incubators for the next generation of farmers.
• There is a shortage of living-wage agricultural jobs, leading to scarcity of skilled and experienced workers.
• Without living wages, it is unlikely that Ontarians will be willing to acquire the skills needed for agricultural production.
Recommendations from the report are categorized into two sections: Building Farm Employer and Farm Worker Capacity, and Municipal, Provincial, and/or Federal Support and Legislation.
Farm labour grants and wage subsidies, improved access to EI, and a basic income are urgently needed to ensure farm workers and operators receive a stable annual income regardless of hourly wage, farm earnings or length of their season.
A full list of recommendations can be found in the final pages of the report. You can read the report on our website here.
The views expressed are those of the NFU-O, and do not necessarily reflect those of the province. This report was funded in part by the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario.
For more information, please contact:
NFU-O Farm Labour Project Coordinator