Mushroom farms face labour crisis

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“We need more people working in agriculture in rural Canada.”Ryan Koeslag, executive vice-president of the Canadian Mushroom Growers’ Association, said this in a recent news release.

According to Koeslag, the labour shortage for Canadian agriculture is massive and growing. Mushroom farms in particular have a 20 per cent job vacancy rate.

“To grow food in rural Canada, we need to fill this labour gap, so we would like to see agriculture recognized as a priority in Canada’s immigration and Temporary Foreign Worker Program,” Koeslag said.

Data out of the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council show there are 16,500 job vacancies on Canadian farms, which is causing $2.9 billion in lost sales to the Canadian economy.

Meanwhile, the sector’s labour gap will nearly double over the next 10 years, reaching 123,000 people by 2029. For mushrooms, the same labour survey released in June 2019, showed a job vacancy rate approaching 20 per cent.

The CMGA released an election package entitled, Give Rural Canada a Chance: Solutions for Canadian Agriculture’s Labour Shortage.

The video and report are being distributed to all political parties and the CMGA is officially asking politicians to make economic immigration and access to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program a priority for farmers in rural Canada.

No matter who is elected, food made in Canada needs to be prioritized, and the farm labour crisis will need to be addressed, CMGA said.

The report asks, “Is Canada’s economic immigration policy contributing to the agri-food labour crisis?” And the video includes interviews with temporary foreign workers, supervisors, managers and farmers.

The CMGA stated that the Canadian agriculture supply chain is contributing $111 billion per year to the country’s economy, over six per cent of Canada’s GDP. That’s $304 million per day, creating 2.3 million jobs.

The mushroom sector contributes close to $1 billion a year to the economy. Growth and export potential for mushrooms is phenomenal, increasing by $50 million last year alone.

“Work in rural Canada has value. Hard work on the farm has value,” said Koeslag.

“We believe international farm workers have value and are part of our Canadian agriculture workforce. When Canadians don’t apply for these year-round farm jobs, we want these workers who are interested in agriculture, who have a job from day one of arrival, to have a chance to stay and immigrate,” Koeslag said.

The CMGA said there are many issues creating obstacles to permanent residency in rural Canada for international farm workers.

Currently, there are over 900 international workers employed on mushroom farms, according to a recent survey, and approximately 300 across Canada who would be able to qualify with new immigration criteria.

Removing immigration obstacles would mean that farms that are under-staffed would be able to normalize hours of work; keep up with current orders; and allow farmers to grow more food for Canada and the world, the CMGA said.

It would allow the farms to recruit people interested in agriculture, helping farms keep trained staff, filling rural Canada with people employed in good jobs with competitive wages, actively working and contributing to the community.

The CMGA is proposing five recommendations that, according to the organization, would allow for a clear pathway to Canadian citizenship for international farm workers.

“Following the Federal Election in 2019, the CMGA recommends that the Government of Canada move forward quickly to adopt and immediately implement the following five simple recommendations that would allow a clear pathway to PR for farm workers,” said Koeslag.

The recommendations include:

1. Prioritize agriculture and agri-food by taking it out of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and creating an Agri-Food Workforce Program for agricultural stream and primary processing, with the mandate to decrease Canada’s agricultural labour shortage.

2. Support agriculture career outreach in Canada and abroad, and support training strategies for all skill levels from farmers, managers, supervisors, and entry level to experienced workers.

3. Government of Canada to partner with farm and food businesses on new labour mobility and immigration programs that work in rural Canada, recognizing the employer’s important role in supporting settlement in rural Canada.

4. Government to work collaboratively with active workers in the program and farm employers using the program to develop new measures that improve worker protections within the TFWP.

5. Create a clear pathway to permanent residency by making farm workers’ access to immigration programs a priority.

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