Skilled labour is critical to any farm operation. The Canadian Agriculture Human Resource Council (CAHRC) conducted a study across Canadian farms and the agriculture industry to identify the gaps and associated costs.
The Labour Market Inventory report identified current trends in Agriculture Labour as well as projected trends based on population growth and distribution. In the breakdown, there is a current labour gap of 600 people. This would be greater if there weren’t employment options through the Temporary Foreign Worker program. The study projected a labour gap of 3500 people by 2025. The gap is expected to increase because of the aging workforce and rural out‐migration.
The challenges that Nova Scotia faces were also identified in the CAHRC report. Recruiting employees is often difficult because the jobs are in the rural areas and the skill availability is insufficient. Employee retention has challenges as well, including insufficient compensation.
Trained employees increase farm productivity and efficiency. Farm operations are becoming more mechanized and farm employees require specialized training that cannot be achieved through general programs. These specialized programs may be in the form of a farm apprenticeship program.
To immediately address the labour gap, farms must be able to draw from pools of employees. The Seasonal Agriculture Worker Program is available; however, the amount of paperwork to apply for and transfer employees causes burden on farmers. Programs and policies needs to be adjusted to reduce the burden on farmers as well as hold ups during processing.
The cost of labour shortage is significant. According to the report, the estimated cost of unfilled vacancies in Nova Scotia is $15 Million in sales. This cost is in part from lost value added opportunities that couldn’t be filled because of labour shortages. To further hinder the opportunity to value add, programs like the Temporary Foreign Work Programs have stipulations around what constitutes as agricultural work.
Harvest Connection Program allows eligible Income Assistance recipients to keep up to $3000 of income earned from working in the seasonal harvesting of field produce crops like berries, vegetables and apples and harvesting of Christmas trees. This program provides an incentive for local residents to work in commodities that require an increase in seasonal labourers at peak times. A similar program should be made available for those receiving other assistance such as the Guaranteed Income Supplement.
Policy Statement: It shall be the policy of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture to lobby provincial and federal governments to establish programs and policies that provide relevant training and encourage employment on farms.