COVID-Related Labour Shortages Hit Farmers Hard

Labour shortages as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic cost Canadian farmers $2.9 billion in 2020, equivalent to 4.2% of the sector’s total sales, according to a new study commissioned by the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC).

“This research emphasizes the importance of understanding how COVID-19 has affected the agriculture workforce.” said Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst, Executive Director of CAHRC.

While the agricultural sector saw a gross domestic product (GDP) increase of 7% in 2020, it masked the sector’s worsening labour shortages. In fact, two in five employers surveyed as part of the study reported not being able to find all the workers that they needed. Of those, 60% experienced production delays and lost sales as a result. One interviewee was forced to abandon his entire line of asparagus production due to labour shortages, resulting in lost sales of $700,000.

Labour shortages attributed to COVID-19 had significant impacts on farm operations, the study showed, including excessive stress for owners and other staff, production delays, overtime costs, and delayed or canceled investment or expansion.

The study also revealed fewer Canadians applied for jobs on farms in 2020, with 70% of employers reporting a drop in the number of Canadian job applicants. Before COVID-19, the rural location, seasonality, wages, and physical requirements of agricultural jobs acted as barriers to recruiting and retaining Canadian workers. During COVID-19, additional pressures of self-isolation, child or family care, quarantine after travel, or recovery from illness added to the decline.

Meanwhile, the number of temporary foreign workers was down as well, falling as much as 47% in March 2020 as the pandemic began. Although many temporary workers were able to come later in the season, the overall number was still significantly fewer than the previous year. For employers, worker travel restrictions, delays obtaining approvals, and difficulties meeting housing and workplace regulations were key challenges in obtaining foreign workers, the CAHRC said.

“Let this be a call to action,” MacDonald-Dewhirst said. “We need to work together as a sector to develop long-term solutions to the critical labour shortages in agriculture. This calls for strategies to attract, educate and retain Canadian workers; streamline the entry of temporary foreign workers and give them a pathway to permanent residency if they want it; and improve the broadband connectivity to rural Canada to advance the use of technology in agriculture while adding to the quality of life for our rural population.”

The full report from the CAHRC can be found here:

Source: DePutter Publishing Ltd.

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