With some 40 percent of Canadian farm operators slated to retire by 2033, our ag sector will face its biggest labour and leadership challenge yet.
By Andrew Joseph, Farms.com; Image by RBC Economics and Statistics Canada
RBC—who has recently become a huge player within the Canadian ag scene—recently released a report suggesting that some 40 percent of all Canadian farm operators will retire by 2033—creating labour turmoil for the entire Canadian agriculture sector.
It’s a point of fact that revolves around the current average age of the Canadian farmer today—they will be of retirement age by 2033, and there’s no getting around that. Ponce de León, where are you when we need you?
Worse yet, RBC said that it appears as though 60 percent of the Canadian producers do not have a succession plan in place.
The report added that over the same 10-year period, Canada will also see a shortfall of 24,000 general farm, nursery, and greenhouse workers.
Add that up by way of subtraction, and it is easy to suggest that the future of Canada’s farmland—of our agricultural industry—will be in dire straits.
It’s not like it’s a new phenomenon. If you look at the graphic above, the average age of the Canadian farmer has been rising—implying fewer younger people entering the field to replace those that retire or die.
As well, the graphic denotes the downward trend of the number of farmers in Canada, and fewer acres being farmed—and this is only since 2021.
- 2001: 166 Million acres; 346,000 farmers; average age of 50;
- 2006: 167 Million acres; 327,000 farmers; average age of 52;
- 2011: 160 Million acres; 294,000 farmers; average age of 54;
- 2016: 159 Million acres; 272,000 farmers; average age of 55;
- 2021: 153 Million acres; 262,000 farmers; average age of 56.
There was obviously a blip in data between 2001 and 2006 where we suddenly began farming an additional 1 Million acres of land, but everything else points to a crisis.
Even now, the Canadian government has put further restraints on Canadian ag by suggesting we need to grow more food for ourselves and a hungry planet while creating fewer GHG (greenhouse) gas emissions.
It’s okay—it’s a noble ambition. We don’t want to create a world that is unhealthy to live in, and we certainly heading that way.
It’s why Canada’s ag sector needs to evolve. It needs to do more with less but with larger levels of technology.
It means creating smarter fertilizers, or animal feed that represses the organism’s need to belch et al to decrease GHHG emissions.
It means greater utilization of smart technologies such as precision ag to use fewer resources to create a larger yield.
It means Canada needs to create short-, medium-, and long-term policies, to establish a necessarily digitally-savvy agricultural workforce.
RBC has in the recent past promoted a multi-pillared method of having Canada save its agricultural sector, while also allowing it to take the steps to become the de facto leader in the global ag community in the way it conducts its business.
\If Canada wants that, RBC suggests that it needs to encourage 30,000 permanent immigrants over the next decade to come to Canada, and establish their own farms and greenhouses, or purchase and take over existing ag businesses.
If our current crop of the Canadian populace isn’t interested enough to enter the field, we need to plant the seed of opportunity for others to not only help Canada but to become Canadian citizens.
This isn’t to say that the people now in Canada can’t help resolve our ag labour issues. On the contrary, Canada must promote agricultural education across colleges and universities to attract new students. In the opinion of this writer, that needs to be done across the board in every college and university—not just those situated in rural-ish areas.
This writer also suggests using our youth to a larger extent. For high school students—with the need to have 40 volunteer hours of community work, perhaps it could be altered to also include farm work. A bus or two could be used to pick up volunteer students at a central location and drop them off at farms somewhat nearby for a day-long work event where they are taught about ag. If they work more than their required 40 hours, perhaps the farm and/or the federal or provincial government could chip in to provide an hourly wage, scholarship or bursary.
No one is saying the youth should be driving a tractor or put in any dangerous situations, but there are ways to encourage urban youth to at least consider rural careers.
Lastly, the RBC report suggests that Canadian farms accelerate the adoption of autonomous and mechanized solutions on farms.
Now part of that reluctance to adopt new technologies has to do with the cost of the new technologies or the fact that they are too specialized to just do one job as opposed to many, while other concerns are that older farmers may be reluctant to drop the tried-and-true methods they have used in the past for modern, precision ag technologies.
Yes, by 2030 Canada will see a large swathe of its ag population retire.
Per the RBC, to incentivize Canadian technology, we need to have a supportive government policy in place, maintain a well-trained workforce, and have financing. And along with all that, we need the general public and ag businesses to buy into this reality 100 percent.