NFU-O project explores shortages in farm labour

Special to WC Online

WEST CARLETON – 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.

The National Farmers Union – Ontario (NFU-O), a direct-membership, non-profit association of family farmers and their supporters, is investigating the causes of and solutions to farm labour conditions across the province, including challenges to training and retaining agricultural workers and new farmers. This project was approved by the Ontario government.

This NFU-O study offers 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 little understanding among policymakers or 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.

The voices of Ontario’s family farmers deserve to be heard. Whether addressing the problems of maintaining a healthy and skilled workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic or advocating policy changes to increase the viability and attractiveness of agricultural careers, NFU-O farmers have far more than just food to bring to the table.

By centering the experiences and knowledge of its membership and other valued stakeholders, the NFU-O plans to shed light on the labour crisis on family farms and develop, through community input and engagement, progressive proposals and practical next steps for action by farmers, farm organizations, government agencies and policy-makers.

As COVID-19 complicates the agricultural labour situation, this NFU-O study will illuminate these upheavals and work closely with the NFU-O membership to address these new challenges – from enhanced health and safety protocols and adjustments in farm product sales and distribution, to recruiting, training and retaining qualified staff while physical distancing measures are in place.

This project will include a mix of consultation, research and stakeholder engagement. In April, the NFU-O released an on-line survey for farm operators. Interviews with members and key stakeholders are underway and on-line focus groups are in the planning stages. Ongoing analysis will be published on a rolling basis and a final report with recommendations for high-priority actions and policy changes will be released by early 2021.

If you have any questions, or would like to know more about how you can contribute to this study, please contact Dave Thompson at

This project is funded in part by the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario. The views expressed in this project are the views of the NFU-O and do not necessarily reflect those of the Province of Ontario.

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