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Labour shortfall threatens grain and oilseed future

New research suggests that a lack of domestic workers could significantly impede the growth of Canada’s grain and oilseed industry.

New research suggests that a lack of domestic workers could significantly impede the growth of Canada’s grain and oilseed industry. It is one of Canada’s largest agricultural employers, accounting for 55,800 jobs in 2014, or 15 per cent of the total agricultural workforce. The grain and oilseed industry primarily produces wheat, canola, soybeans, feed corn, pulses (such as lentils and dry peas), barley, oats and fodder crops.

In 2014, 5,700 jobs went unfilled because the industry was unable to find enough domestic workers, and this labour shortfall resulted in lost sales of $569 million. Projections indicate that by 2025, as many as 17,400 jobs are at risk of going unfilled. As the labour gap widens, the financial impact could cost the industry even more sales and inhibit its ability to reach its full potential.

The extent of the industry’s labour issues was examined as part of a three-year study conducted by the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC). The data was published in the Grain and Oilseed: Labour Market Forecast to 2025 study.

The industry’s widening labour gap can be attributed to several factors. First, nearly one in three domestic workers currently employed in the grain and oilseed industry is expected to retire by 2025. Second, the industry is unable to supplement its domestic workforce by accessing foreign workers through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) or the Agricultural Stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). And third, a significant shift away from animal production and toward grain and oilseed production in recent years has increased this industry’s demand for labour.

The industry faces a number of key barriers that will make it increasingly difficult to recruit workers in the coming years, including a lack of skills and experience in the available workforce, a highly seasonal work environment with long hours of work in season, and operations that tend to be in rural locations where transportation and housing difficulties make it harder to find and retain workers. Additionally, most grain and oilseed production is concentrated in the Prairies, where competition for workers in the oil and gas sector has been intense.

To address the labour issues identified in the research, CAHRC, with the help of the Government of Canada, has developed agriculture-specific human resource (HR) tools designed to support modern farm operations to manage their workforce. CAHRC offers Agri Skills, online and in-person training programs, and the Agri HR Toolkit – an online resource guide and templates to address the HR needs of any business. For agricultural organizations there are customized labour issues briefings that apply the new research to specific commodities and provinces, to explore the labour implications within their specific area. For more information on these and other CAHRC offerings visit

The Grain and Oilseed: Labour Market Forecast to 2025 report can be downloaded at The study data was validated through industry consultations conducted Canada-wide including: 1034 surveys of employers, workers and industry stakeholders; 80 phone interviews; six focus groups for a total of more than 100 participants; and seven webinars focused on specific commodity groups with 100 participants in total. The national, provincial and commodity-specific reports can be downloaded from