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Helping students choose careers in agriculture 

Canada’s farmers are experiencing a chronic labour crisis. While they struggle to find workers from a dwindling labour pool, young people leaving rural schools often head to urban centres in search of opportunities.

Organizations such as Inside Education and Agriculture in the Classroom dedicate themselves to bringing agricultural education into the grade school curriculum. Their hope is that by providing students with information on the opportunities in rural areas, more young people will consider a future in agriculture, or in an agricultural secondary education program.

The Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association (ACFA) sees this and other learning options as valuable for the future of the cattle feeding business. 

Another program, Alberta Education’s Career and Technology Foundations (CTF) is offered to students in grades 5 to 9. As a career development program, it helps students explore their interests and passions, developing learning experiences based on potential careers and occupations.

The program is based on 14 learning outcomes, and students are taught vital skills such as problem solving, planning, decision-making, collaboration and more. Teachers are given the freedom to source their own materials and create lessons that relate to the interests of their students.

To help them create the most engaging and relevant programs, teachers have access to a suite of CTF Challenges, or student-focused learning experiences. Examples include Water for Life in which students explore local watersheds from various perspectives, or What’s your Business?, in which students design, create, market and sell a product, performance or service.

Teachers also have access to external resources, such as those offered by Ag for Life.

An opportunity for agricultural producer groups

Alberta Education has encouraged external stakeholders to become involved in creating CTF Challenges based on their own industry or sector. Templates are provided to help create suitable challenges. Some examples of industry-specific challenges include marketing, vehicle maintenance and energy.

ACFA is working to produce a variety of challenges which will relate the cattle feeding business to curriculum-based outcomes and provide insights into the opportunities that exist in the industry and the different skills required.

Some of the other resources and programs available to teachers and students can be found on ACFA’s Education and Training Programs page.

5 priorities for cattle feeders in 2019 

Canada’s cattle feeders are urging politicians to consider the needs of beef producers in their platforms for the 2019 federal election. 

Agriculture and Agri-Food is a $100-billion industry that employs more than two million Canadians. The government has identified the sector as one of a few with the potential to spur economic growth.

Canada is in a prime position to benefit from increasing global demand for agricultural products, but the industry requires government support in removing constraints and barriers to growth. 

The National Cattle Feeders’ Association (NCFA) cites five urgent challenges:

Rural infrastructure

Most agricultural operations are in rural municipalities with a limited tax base to provide infrastructure. With little federal funding, some municipalities have implemented counterproductive measures, such as the livestock head tax in Lethbridge County. This is eroding the competitiveness of cattle feeding in southern Alberta.

It is crucial that the federal government identifies critical infrastructure investments in rural communities and dedicates financial resources to make them happen.

Labour shortage

A chronic labour shortage of about 60,000 workers is costing primary agriculture producers about $1.5 billion in unrealized farm cash receipts each year. 

Farmers have been forced to turn to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to fill positions that cannot be filled by Canadians, but the process is expensive, time-consuming and complicated. 

The program’s processes need to be streamlined and clear a pathway set for permanent residency for temporary foreign workers.

Regulatory barriers

The industry is ever-evolving with new technologies and industry developments. But when regulations don’t keep pace, it hinders our ability to compete in the global marketplace.

In 2016, NCFA released a detailed study entitled The Competitiveness of the Canadian Cattle Feeding Sector: Regulatory and Policy Issues(PDF)

, Costs and Opportunities. It highlighted six areas – enhanced traceability, export regulation and impediments, veterinary drug harmonization, inspection practices, transportation and labour – where reforms could generate an additional $495 million in revenue across the beef value chain.

International market access

Canada exports 45 per cent of its beef production, and those exports are primarily to the U.S. To grow, the industry needs to expand into other markets, including the Asia-Pacific region and Europe.

Agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Canada-EU Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) should be a government priority. They will have a tremendous impact on our ability to trade effectively with these regions.

Consumer education and trust

Government and industry need to work together to ensure consumers are able to make informed choices when it comes to their food, whether the issue is environmental impact, health, or production methods.

Public education should be a pillar of any new national food policy, and Canada Food Guide revisions should reflect the most recent scientific, medical and nutritional research.

In an earlier blog post, we featured John Weekes, an independent business advisor who has worked with NCFA on international trade issues. You can learn more about his work in Meet the international trade expert who is helping support the beef industry abroad.

Why the Canadian government needs to implement the Agricultural Workforce Action Plan

Canada’s agriculture sector is struggling with a labour shortage crisis, made more challenging with recent changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).

It is time for the government to step up and make the process simpler and faster for the people who help feed Canadians every day.

In 2012, agriculture and agri-food industries employed 2.1 million people in Canada, accounting for one in eight jobs. Of these, about 39,700 were temporary foreign workers.

There are many reasons why Canada’s farmers find it necessary to supplement their Canadian workforce with temporary foreign workers, including:

  • As rural dwellers migrate to cities, it is increasingly difficult to attract workers for rural jobs.
  • The seasonality of the industry makes it hard for farmers to offer full-time, permanent jobs.
  • Farming is hard work, and many people are not attracted to its strenuous nature and often harsh working conditions.

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP)

The ability to hire foreign workers as farmers need them is invaluable for many Canadian farmers.

Unfortunately, in response to alleged abuse of the program by industries outside agriculture, the federal government made changes in June 2014. Although primary agriculture was exempt from some of the changes, many others have had unintended consequences. It is now a convoluted and lengthy process for farmers to bring in the workers they require.

The challenges experienced by beef producers and other farmers are outlined in ‘Canada’s agriculture sector needs help and foreign workers are part of the solution’.

The Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Workforce Action Plan

The agriculture industry has collaborated on recommendations for addressing the labour crisis. Goals for meeting the industry’s non-domestic labour requirements include:

    • Short term: Streamline the existing systems and processes within the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to help the agriculture and agri-food sector successfully access non-domestic labour and adapt to policy changes.
    • Medium term: A new streamlined program designed for, and dedicated to, the agriculture and agri-food industry.
    • Long term:
      • Improve pathways to permanent residency for agriculture and agri-food workers in alignment with Citizenship and Immigration Canada; and
      • Implement long-term elements of the Canadian Agriculture and Agri-food Workforce Action Plan, to ensure a strong domestic labour supply into the future.

Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst, executive director of the Canadian Agricultural Human Resources Council (CAHRC), said “The gap between the demand for workers and worker supply has nearly doubled in the last 10 years. Based on increasing demand, both domestically and internationally, for Canada’s food and agriculture products, the gap is expected to double again in the next 10 years, to 114,000 workers by 2025.”

“The council,” she continued, “along with 75 other industry associations, supports the implementation of the Canadian Agriculture and Agri-food Workforce Action Plan to address the immediate and pervasive issues of the inadequate supply of workers currently impeding businesses in Canada. The effort is guided by a national labour task force, and includes recommendations that are practical and essential to ensuring the safety, sustainability, and affordability of food for all Canadians and that support Canada’s continued position as a leader and significant contributor to food production for the whole world.”

The role of government in keeping agriculture growing

Agriculture is a unique industry because operators deal with live animals and perishable products. If they don’t have the labour force they require to get their work done, animals could suffer, and crops could spoil. It’s imperative that the federal government streamline the process so that operators can apply for assistance under the TFWP and bring in workers when they need them.

You can read more about the agriculture labour crisis in the following articles:

2017: Cattle feeders’ year in review

This past year saw a number of challenges arise that gave cattle feeders cause for concern, such as changing legislation and regulations, taxation, and trade. At each step, the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association (ACFA) has played an active role in advocating and negotiating for our members.

Here are some of the major projects we worked on in 2017:

Strategic plan

In March, ACFA board members, staff and industry partners met to renew the organization’s vision, mission and strategic plan. Here is a summary of the outcome of those talks:

Vision: Champion a sustainable cattle feeding sector in Alberta.

Mission: Pursue innovative and collaborative solutions for a thriving Alberta beef industry

Strategic priority #1: Build ACFA membership by delivering value to our members.

Strategic priority #2: Engage with the provincial government to strengthen the health of the cattle feeding sector in Alberta.

Strategic priority #3: Collaborate with partners to advance the industry.

Strategic priority #4: Strengthen ACFA governance.

Advocacy

There were many issues affecting cattle feeders in 2017 in which ACFA played an active role in advocating for our members’ interests. These included:

    • The Lethbridge County head tax which would severely impact cattle feeders in that area, resulting in feedlot closures.
    • The provincial carbon levy which could add costs by as much as $6 to $7 per head.
    • Federal income tax changes that will harm the viability of family-owned corporations.
    • Infrastructure needs, which are not receiving adequate provincial or federal funding.
    • Labour shortages, ongoing issues with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), and proposed changes to the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program (AINP).
    • Farm safety, employment standards and the Employment Standards Code.
    • Trade, and access to new markets for cattle feeders.

Outreach

ACFA’s communications with stakeholders and the public included:

    • Key provincial government ministers, decision-makers, MLAs and MPs.
    • Members, industry and the media.
    • Feedlot tours for educators, students, and government officials.

Watch for status reports, as we continue to stay on top of these issues throughout the coming year.

Canada’s agriculture sector needs help – and foreign workers are part of the solution

The agriculture sector is in the midst of an acute labour crisis. For Canada’s cattle feeders, temporary foreign workers are a lifeline when they can’t fill vital positions with Canadian candidates. The Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association (ACFA) is working hard to ensure feedlots have access to skilled labour when Canadians cannot be found. 

In spite of high vacancies in the cattle feeding sector, it’s becomingly increasingly difficult to access temporary foreign workers – applying to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) has been a convoluted and time-consuming process since changes were made in 2014.

How applications are made

Feedlot owners use the TFWP’s Agricultural Stream to access workers for year-round, permanent jobs. The current program attempts to fit a variety of industries and sectors into a one-size-fits-all design and does not recognize that a feedlot’s need for year-round, permanent employees differs greatly from seasonal farming requirements. 

In a recent Temporary Foreign Worker Program Primary Ag Review, cattle feeders provided their feedback on the program, with suggestions for improvements. The feedback revealed some common trends and serious frustrations:

  • Paperwork timelines: Bringing foreign workers in under the TFWP Agricultural Stream takes six months or longer for processing of paperwork, including a Service Canada Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) and the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada Work Permit. This is too long for feedlot employers needing to fill vacancies to care for and feed live cattle. 
  • Housing: To qualify for the TFWP, feedlot employers must provide subsidized accommodation and a positive housing inspection. Most feedlots do not have on-site accommodation so local housing is found for workers. Employers must rent and furnish accommodation before applying — creating a months-long financial burden that feedlot owners must endure with no guarantee of a successful application. Differences between year-round and seasonal accommodation are not currently recognized and no consideration is being given to the unique needs of year-round feedlot workers.
  • National Commodity List (NCL): To apply under the Agricultural Stream, the feedlot operator must select one commodity, or production stream, per application. Workers brought in under the program are then only allowed to work within that one commodity. The rule doesn’t realistically fit with feedlot operations, where workers typically have responsibilities that fall under two or more of these commodities. LMIAs are being refused for this reason. 
  • Changing requirements: Job postings must reference the federally regulated wage rate. When the wage rates are changed, notification is not provided so if the wrong rate is advertised, then LMIA applications are often declined multiple times, at no fault of the feedlot employer. Endless back and forth follow-up with Service Canada can result in the loss of potential candidates because feedlots are unable to indicate to these workers when approval will actually, if ever, take place.
  • A disconnect between federal and provincial rules: Provincial frameworks often don’t align with federal frameworks. In some provinces, formal paperwork has to be submitted to the province in order to begin the TFW application process. When the TFW application ends up being a long, drawn-out process, the provincial paperwork can actually expire, leaving the feedlot to start the entire process over again.
  • Immigration access restrictions for feedlot workers: Under Canada’s merit-based immigration system it is very difficult for feedlot operators and processing plants to keep highly skilled workers in the country – even when they have vital experience and on-the-job training. Federal and provincial governments must recognize farm and food workers as important and prioritize them for immigration.

ACFA works with the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council and the Agriculture and Agri-Food Labour Task Force to research and bring these issues forward. It is crucial that the uniqueness of feedlot operations is taken into consideration and that blanket requirements are removed from the program. 

In a recent post we wrote about the Alberta Immigration Nominee program, whereby businesses can apply for permanent resident status for their temporary foreign workers. But changes to that program could also make it harder for feedlot operators to keep certain highly skilled workers in the country.

Will immigration program changes help the agriculture labour crisis?

Photo Credit: GrainsWest magazine
Photographer: Bryce Meyer

 

On the surface, it appears that proposed changes to the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program (AINP) may help alleviate the chronic labour crisis currently affecting our agriculture sector. However, on closer inspection, some of the changes will actually prevent feedlots from nominating certain highly skilled foreign workers.

The good…

The AINP allows foreign nationals to apply for permanent residency while they work in Canada under a temporary foreign worker permit. The program is not new, but until now, applicants have had to select from multiple streams and sub-categories under which eligibility was assessed. The proposed changes, which take effect on January 2, 2018, will simplify the application process and standardize eligibility criteria, making it simpler for applicants and streamlining the review process.

Of particular note, the new AINP will allow applicants from all skill levels to apply. Up until now, lower-skilled workers (such as feedlot labourers) have not had an option to apply for permanent residency in Canada. As of January 2, they will be eligible to apply under the AINP as long as they meet work experience, education, income and language requirements, among other things.

The bad & the ugly…

The federal government’s Express Entry program has grown increasingly more restrictive, forcing many skilled feedlot workers to look for alternative application streams. Further, the English language requirements of the program prevented many from applying. Luckily, the AINP has served as an option to workers who a) could not gain sufficient points under Express Entry due to their education, age, or a variety of other factors, and/or b) could not apply due to an inability to meet minimum language benchmarks.

As of January 2, all AINP applicants will need to provide proof that they have the equivalent of a Canadian High School Diploma. Further, they will need to pass an English language test. This will cover all skill levels; from pen riders to feed truck drivers or labourers, etc.

While it’s true that many feedlots employ highly skilled foreign workers with veterinary-related degrees and excellent English language skills, many more employ high-skilled workers who do not have high school diplomas or do not meet the language requirements. These workers often have decades of related work experience. Many could pass the speaking and listening portion of the exam, but cannot pass the reading/writing portions as they do not exercise these skills on a daily basis. Unfortunately, once the changes come into place these foreign workers will no longer have any option to pursue permanent resident status in Canada.

Why the agriculture sector needs foreign workers

For Canada’s agriculture sector, many factors have contributed to a labour shortage that makes it increasingly difficult for farmers to find help – factors such as harsh working conditions, the seasonality of the work and the steady flow of young people into urban areas.

According to ‘Agriculture 2025,’ the labour market information report from the Canadian Agriculture Human Resources Council, there were 59,200 more agricultural jobs than candidates in 2014. This labour gap is expected to rise to 113,800 – 27 per cent of jobs – by 2025. In other words, Canadian farmers cannot fill their jobs from the available pool of Canadian applicants.

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program has been invaluable in helping alleviate the shortage. It allows employers to bring in foreign workers on a temporary basis to fill jobs that can’t be filled by Canadians. The AINP, on the other hand, allows those workers to apply for permanent residency while they are working in Canada on a temporary permit.

To learn more about the labour crisis, check out ’12 must-know facts about the agricultural labour shortage and why it matters to Canadians’.

Meeting with MPs helps foster understanding of cattle feeders’ issues

One of the primary mandates for both ACFA and NCFA is to act as an information source for government policy makers, and to build champions for Canadian agriculture and agri-food. 

Every year, when Parliament breaks for the summer, we get the opportunity to reconnect with MPs as they return to their constituencies. On Aug. 22, NFCA’s Bryan Walton, president and CEO, and Casey Vander Ploeg, vice-president, met with MPs and feedlot operators to discuss a number of pressing issues facing cattle feeders.

Who attended the meeting

The meeting was attended by Rachel Harder, MP for Lethbridge, Glen Motz, MP for Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner and John Barlow, MP for Foothills.

In addition to Bryan and Casey, the ACFA’s members were represented by feedlot operators James Bekkering, Leighton Kolk, Rick Paskal, Cody Schooten, Shane Schooten and Larry Sears.

Important industry issues to watch for

Meetings such as this provide an opportunity for a semi-formal conversation about the issues and concerns of cattle feeders. This gives their representatives in Parliament the information they need for informed and balanced decision making. Some of the issues discussed at the meeting included:

1) Trade. Always a top priority, the agenda included updates on the following trade issues:

    • Trade with China. John Barlow provided a report on a recent Governor General’s Mission to China, which he attended. In addition, a recent agreement to expand U.S. exports to China has left Canada behind, and the need for the federal government to secure the same access for Canada was discussed.
    • NAFTA, and its importance to the cattle feeding industry.
    • Trans-Pacific Partnership, which needs to be altered and rebooted since the U.S. has pulled out.

2) Labour, and the chronic agriculture labour shortage both in Alberta and throughout Canada.

3) Rural Infrastructure.

4) Transportation Regulations.

5) Canada Food Guide.

As with any such meetings, we are confident this meeting provided government officials with a better understanding of the issues facing Alberta’s cattle feeders, and how to support them as they continue to feed Canadians and contribute to the economy.

You can read more about the cattle feeders’ top issues in ‘5 feedlot issues to watch for in 2017’.

How farm tours can help the agriculture labour crisis

One day in mid-July, a group of people from across Canada, toured Chinook Feeders in Nanton, Alberta to get an on-the-ground feel for what goes on in a cattle-feeding operation.   

The group from Agriculture in the Classroom – an organization dedicated to enhancing the knowledge, understanding and appreciation of agriculture in everyday life – was just one of many such tours that happen at Canadian farms throughout the year.

cattle being vaccinated and implanted

An industry working together

Even though the people touring Chinook Feeders on that day were already involved in agriculture or food production, it’s helpful for them to be aware of all the different types of agriculture being practised. What better way for them to become ambassadors for an industry that has so many career opportunities and possibilities for job seekers?

Karen Carle, the Alberta representative for Agriculture in the Classroom explained: “for this year’s tour in Alberta, we wanted to highlight the diversity of the agriculture and agri-food industry. In addition to the feedlot, we toured a spin (small plot intensive) farm in Calgary, an oilseed innovation company, an elk farm and a honey producer. In addition, we held sharing sessions where we come together to collaborate and learn from initiatives going on in each province. This year we also had a public trust panel to learn from industry experts and explore the role ag education can play in building public trust.”

Aside from the tours, Ag in the Classroom’s primary activity is providing curriculum-based teaching resources to schools. Some of their initiatives include:

    • Canadian Agricultural Literacy Week (CALW). More than 95,000 students and 3,500 classrooms have been visited by industry speakers and readers across Canada.
    • Development of a national high school teaching tool, All About Food, with a comprehensive fact book and accompanying interactive website, with teacher guide.
    • International Year of Pulses education components in partnership with Pulse Canada for 2016.

Ag in the Classroom uses these tools to help ensure that young people have complete, balanced information about the opportunities available to them in agriculture.

Why is it important to get agriculture into the curriculum?

Canadian farmers are dealing with a chronic labour crisis. There are many reasons for this, including rising retirement, the seasonal nature of the work, the often harsh working conditions and the long hours. Another reason is the tendency for young people to want to head for the cities after leaving school. Ag in the Classroom provides an opportunity for students to see the flip side of those factors and discover the many careers available and the opportunities that exist.

“Many teachers want their students to learn about agriculture, but without the right programs and resources to support them, they don’t always know where to start,” said Karen. “Ag in the Classroom is really about providing accurate, balanced, current and science-based information about agriculture and packaging it in a way that teachers can use in the classroom. With most people removed from life on the farm, and so much misinformation circulating online, Ag in the Classroom’s role is more important than ever.”

Another program that teaches students about careers in their rural communities is Career Connections, which we featured in ‘How cattle feeders are helping create a future for young people in agriculture’.

You can read more about the agricultural labour crisis in ’12 must-know facts about the agriculture labour crisis (and why it matters to Canadians)’.

Feeding the world: why the agri-food industry must be an economic priority

Canada’s agricultural industry has long been in a severe labour crisis. As young people move toward the cities, and rural populations age, our farmers struggle more and more to find the manpower they need to run their operations. Despite this labour crunch, agricultural production in Alberta is worth about $5 billion a year, so finding solutions for the people who produce our food is a top priority.

The Federal Advisory Council on Economic Growth recently recommended to the Federal Government that the agriculture and food sector be named a growth priority. This introduces opportunities for industry and government to come together in partnership to strategically remove growth constraints and leverage untapped potential. The labour shortage will be one of the high-impact issues to be addressed by action teams consisting of various stakeholders.

Why this matters

Canadian farmers will always try to employ Canadians first. But when they have positions that Canadians aren’t applying for, they must have access to alternative sources of labour. Only then can our farmers produce the high-quality food Canadians expect, and have the capability to supply a healthy export market.

Canada has an international reputation for high-quality food and exceptional food safety standards, and prioritizing growth will help secure our place as a global leader in the provision of top-quality, trusted agri-food products to the world.

Changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program

This is not the first ray of light that has been offered to this struggling industry. In December 2016, the Federal Government announced changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program that promise to help alleviate the labour shortage. Some of the changes include:

  • Removal of a rule stating that foreign workers could only work in Canada for four years at a time.
  • Changes to caps and exemptions.
  • A commitment to developing pathways to permanence for foreign workers.

How these changes support the Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Workforce Action Plan

The Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Workforce Action Plan is an industry-led ‘roadmap’ to help alleviate the labour shortage. The recommendation to make agri-foods a growth-priority industry supports the plan’s two main recommendations:

  • Increase the supply of labour to meet immediate and future requirements for skilled and unskilled workers.
  • Improve the knowledge and skills of workers to meet immediate and future labour requirements.

These recommendations also closely align with the Economic Advisory Council’s recommendations regarding a ‘FutureSkills Lab’ and represent immediate targets to support the agriculture industry on this front.

To learn more about Canada’s agriculture labour shortage, check out: