P.E.I. losing millions of dollars due to agriculture workforce problem: expert


Published on January 27, 2017

Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst, executive director of the Canadian Agriculture Human Resources Council, was one of the guest speakers at the 76th annual general meeting of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture on Friday in Charlottetown. She says one of the biggest challenges facing the industry right now is a shortage of workers.

©Dave Stewart/TC Media

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — A lack of workers is costing the agriculture industry in P.E.I. millions of dollars a year.

That was the message from Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst, executive director of the Canadian Agriculture Human Resources Council.

MacDonald-Dewhirst was one of the guest speakers Friday at the 76th annual general meeting of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture in Charlottetown.

According to her P.E.I. research numbers, the Island’s agriculture industry employed 4,900 people in 2014 but the industry was unable to fill 200 jobs.

Those vacant jobs meant the agriculture industry lost $4 million that year, a number that is only going to increase as the challenge of finding workers continues.

“What’s troubling is that (farmers) are reporting production delays due to the inability to find enough workers,’’ MacDonald-Dewhirst said.

She skipped ahead to 2025, explaining that demand for agriculture product will be strong in P.E.I. and the need for labour will increase because of that strong growth.

On top of that, 22 per cent of the current workforce will be retiring in the next decade.

“We need to encourage those in urban centres to be excited about food.’’

She said P.E.I. has a younger than average workforce, which is good, but there aren’t enough people in the key 15-25 age demographic to fill the jobs needed.

The challenges she mentioned pertaining to the industry are not new. The population is declining in rural P.E.I., as is the pool of young people to draw from.

Some of the farmers in attendance had ideas on how to change things.

John Rowe, president of the P.E.I. Woodlot Owners Association, said the province’s education system needs to play a bigger role in attracting young people to agriculture.

“There’s not enough agricultural classes in schools,’’ Rowe said. “We need agriculture courses in the schools, beginning in the elementary schools right up to high school.

Morley Wood of Albany said farmers need to be able to pay a competitive wage.

“If we could afford to pay staff we’d have a staff,’’ Wood said. “Until we are in a position to pay our staff this shrinking will take place.’’

MacDonald-Dewhirst didn’t have statistics on what the average wage is in the province but she did say agricultural wages are keeping pace with other industries. She added that wages are only one of the challenges facing the industry.

She reiterated her point about getting young people excited about agriculture and told farmers the industry needs to be much more vocal when it comes to good news stories.

 

Dave.stewart@tc.tc

Twitter.com/DveStewart

Workforce shortage in Canada

- Shortages are doubling every 10 years

- The industry knew trouble was brewing 10 years ago

- The agriculture industry is currently short 60,000 workers

- Inability to fill 200 jobs cost the P.E.I. agriculture industry $4 million in 2014