Find your future in Agriculture - options for a meaningful career and an opportunity to influence

Shannon Sereda, Government Relations, Policy & Markets, Director | Alberta Grains

What does the future of agriculture look like? How can we meet the skyrocketing demand for food to feed 9.7 billion people by 2050? This question was posed by the University of Calgary’s (U of C) Centre for Career and Personal Development, together with The Office of Transdisciplinary Research & Scholar, as part of their Industry Days series, intended to give students exposure to career options in necessary fields, like food security.

On November 22, I was honoured to sit on a panel together with Matthew Geddes and Aliya Jinnah from the U of C Industry Days host departments, Robert McCorkell from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Guillaume Lhermie, from the Simpson Centre for Food and Agricultural Policy. Collaboratively, we fielded questions from students and discussed potential career pathways in the agricultural and agri-food sector. As the agricultural sector continues to evolve and expand, there is an increasing need for talented individuals to bring transdisciplinary skills to help with sectoral advancement and competitiveness.

Attracting talent to the sector from primary production all the way through the value chain is critical given the recent Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council’s (CAHRC) report: Canadian Agricultural Labour Market Forecast to 2030 revealed, “Canada’s agricultural sector is experiencing a severe and chronic labour shortage.” The report points to more than 28,200 agricultural and agri-food jobs being unfilled in the sector during peak season in 2022, resulting in a 3.7 per cent decline in sales, which is estimated to have resulted in close to $3.5 billion in lost sales in one year alone.

While the aging of Canadian farmers is not a new phenomenon, a recent report by RBC Thought Leadership (supported by Statistics Canada) expects close to 40 per cent of Canadian farm operators to retire by 2033, less than ten years from now, with over 66 per cent of producers not having a succession plan in place. This signals the most significant agricultural labour and leadership transition in Canada’s history is on the horizon. This labour transition and labour gap is slated to occur when the sector as a whole could be at the height of a revolution toward an increased focus on data analytics, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), plant genetics and climate-smart agriculture. This shift will require an increasingly digitally-aware workforce who can adapt current practices to meet the increasing application of high-technological innovation.

Simultaneously, there is the need for a national strategy and good policy to address the needs of the Canadian agricultural workforce to continue our global leadership in a changing economy. This has been acknowledged by both our federal and provincial governments. In the 2021 mandate letter of the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Minister, now Lawrence MacAulay, the department is directed to develop a sector-specific Agricultural Labour Strategy. Likewise, Alberta’s Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation, RJ Sigurdson has been given the mandate to support both new entry and succession into primary agriculture as well as to work across departments, (to design a ministry-specific job attraction strategy to raise awareness of young Albertans, and adults changing careers, of the skilled trades and professions available in the sector).

To this end, both industry, through the CAHRC, and the government, led by AAFC, have been working toward developing aligned strategies. AAFC released their ‘What We Heard Report’ in May 2023 related to their 2022 consultation work, which will continue throughout 2023, to develop an Agricultural Labour Strategy. Likewise, CAHRC, in partnership with Food & Beverage Canada (FBC), and the Canadian Federation of Agricultural (CFA) is developing the National Workforce Strategic Plan for Agriculture and Food Beverage Manufacturing.

Even with all these efforts taking place, there is still the need for local efforts by groups like Alberta Grains and the farmers we represent. Students are often looking for meaningful and purposeful work, and what is more purposeful than agriculture and the production of a global food supply? With already so many options to participate in the food system, now is a critical time to bridge the rural/urban divide to ensure that students understand the transferable and transdisciplinary nature of agricultural that requires collaboration amongst various fields like biology, environmental science, nutrition, economics, agronomy, policy-making, science, research, data and robotics amongst many, many more.

Farmers as ‘ag-vocates’ can engage with members of their communities, family members in urban areas and other audiences to get them excited about the possibilities in agriculture. At Alberta Grains, we will continue to seek out further opportunities to connect our sector to students exploring future career paths!

“A recent report by RBC Thought Leadership (supported by Statistics Canada) expects close to 40 per cent of Canadian farm operators to retire by 2033, less than 10 years from now, with over 66 per cent of producers not having a succession plan in place.”