Bringing healthy food from farm to table requires almost 80,000 skilled primary agricultural workers across Ontario.
Even before the havoc caused in our food chains by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario farmers faced ongoing difficulties in attracting and retaining labour. According to the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC), 4,400 farm jobs in the province were left unfilled in 2017. The CAHRC estimates a deficit of as many as 47,300 farm workers in Ontario by 2029.
In April 2020, the NFU-O embarked on a Farm Labour Project to study agricultural labour issues on small and mid-sized farms. The NFU-O study offered a different perspective to the farm labour debate. To date, research on farm labour shortages has been tailored to large corporate agri-business. There is still little understanding among policy-makers and among Ontario consumers of the often-unique labour issues on small and medium-sized family farms. Similarly, among the solutions to agricultural labour shortages, little has been proposed to meet staffing demands while ensuring commitments to sustainable agriculture and fair labour practices.
In 2021, the NFU-O published “Reframing the Farm Labour Crisis in Ontario”. The following report and recommendations are based on a mixed methods study that included a survey of 772 farm operators and workers, stakeholder consultations, informal interviews, online group discussions, and a literature review.
The study found that small to mid-sized farms are robust agricultural job creators. In fact, farms under 70 acres were more likely to employ Ontarians than their larger counterparts. Temporary Foreign Workers make up only 8.5% of the workforce on small and mid-sized farms compared to 30% across the entire sector. Many of the farms surveyed provide extensive farm training and are the knowledge incubators for the next generation of farmers. There is plenty of work on these farms, and plenty of people are attracted to the work and the rural lifestyle.
There is, however, a shortage of living-wage agricultural jobs which has led to a scarcity of skilled and experienced workers.
The recommendations arising from the NFU-O Farm Labour Project are clustered in two sections. The first, “Building Farm Employer and Farm Worker Capacity,” suggests measures that farmers, farm organizations, community groups, eaters, and other stakeholders can take to support and grow Ontario’s agricultural workforce.
The second, “Municipal, Provincial, and/or Federal Support and Legislation,” provides key policy recommendations directed at elected officials and all levels of government. The implementation of these policies will support the essential work of Ontario’s small and mid-sized farms.
Special thanks to all the farm operators, farm workers, and other stakeholders who took time to take the survey, participate in informal interviews, and/or join our online discussions.
If you have any questions, or would like to know more about this report, please contact Dave Thompson at [email protected].