Technology and innovation demand new skillsets for agriculture

July 23, 2019

No other sector in Canada faces as many labour challenges as agriculture. Although comprised of very different industries, commodities, regions and work environments, nearly all farm employers share similar challenges when it comes to finding the workers they need to succeed. Without a clear understanding of the underlying issues and potential solutions, workforce shortages may have consequences for this vital part of the Canadian economy.

The Labour Market Forecast to 2029 provides clarity for agricultural employees, employers, educators and policymakers about the state of the labour market and ways to minimize labour shortages in the future.

The forecast indicates that the adoption of technology is one of those ways. As new innovations become mainstream, technology has the potential to dramatically reduce labour requirements across all industries. Along with being able to manage with a decreased number of workers, technology and innovation have enabled farmers to streamline their operations and rapidly improve efficiencies.

And the future looks very bright for agriculture. Data revealed that an increase in innovation and the adoption of technology have contributed to agriculture experiencing the strongest labour productivity gains of any major sector over the past 20 years. Productivity is forecasted to grow by up to 1.6% per year, compared to the Canadian average of 0.7%, partly as a result of the influence of technology. Continuing to improve farm productivity and shifting away from labour-intensive practices will help address workforce issues.

Ironically, the shift to greater mechanization may be partially limited by the general skill and labour shortages that the sector faces. Although total vacancies are decreasing, the jobs that are left unfilled are positions critical to the sector’s long term viability. Many farmers are unable to find workers with the technical knowledge and digital expertise they need to program, operate and service highly technical machinery and equipment, as well as provide specialized animal care. There is a need to develop new skillsets within the sector.

“There are many opportunities for the way forward in addressing workforce shortages,” says Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst, Executive Director, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC). “Our ability to be resilient as a sector and adapt to changing technology will depend on our ability to respond in a timely way to new skills requirements.”

To address the labour issues identified in the research, CAHRC has developed agriculture-specific human resource (HR) tools designed to support modern farm operations to manage their workforce. CAHRC also 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 labour market forecast research was validated through industry consultations conducted Canada-wide including: 1,704 surveys of employers, workers and industry stakeholders, and eight webinars focused on specific commodity groups with 170 participants in total. National data from the forecast can be found in the report Agriculture 2029: How the Sector’s Labour Challenges Will Shape its Future. The research was funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Sectoral Initiatives Program.


For more information

The Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council works with industry leaders, governments and educational stakeholders to research, develop and communicate solutions to the challenges in employment and skills development in primary agriculture. The Council also leads collaborative implementation efforts in support of the national Workforce Action Plan for the agriculture and agri-food sector. For more information visit

Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst
Executive Director, CAHRC
T: 613-745-7457 ext. 222

Debra Hauer
AgriLMI Manager, CAHRC
T: 613-745-7457 ext. 227

Theresa Whalen
Communications & Marketing Specialist, CAHRC
C: 613-325-7321