ISSUES & CHALLENGES: Only 0.53% of Ottawa’s labour force worked in occupations unique to agriculture excluding labourers in 2006, compared with 1.46% of Ontario’s labour force. Compared to Ontario, Ottawa has a much smaller proportion of its population in occupations unique to agriculture. The agriculture workforce is ageing, with those 65 years and older making up 12.1% of the farming population in the province and fewer than 10% of them are immigrants. In addition, almost half list their main occupation as non-agricultural. Off the farm, they are working as transportation equipment operators and clerical staff. Only 11.6% of farm operators in the province have an undergraduate degree and 10.7% have apprenticeship or trades certificates or diplomas. Many farming communities report the loss of young people to the cities.
There are greater challenges impacting the agriculture sector beyond labour supply, including: transportation of agricultural products; water; climate change and environmental stresses; rising energy costs; lack of equity and financing for small businesses encouraging the conglomeration of larger farms; and, an onerous regulatory framework. For Ottawa, in particular, there is a need for a regional strategy at the city level.
POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS: Some best practices have been outlined by the Agricultural Institute of Canada. These include: leading farmers frequently looking outside of their business for information and advice; helping farmers improve their knowledge of their asset-base; finding more efficient ways to reduce costs; and, and finding ways to foster and enhance continued innovation and growth in a manner that maximizes global competitiveness and minimizes domestic uncertainty and upheaval. As part of that innovation, we should explore the idea of developing or strengthening a farm incubator in Ottawa, and leverage the availability of arable land, university and college expertise to develop solutions around “food security” and “small scale farming” that tie into the “100 mile diet”, “local food movements”.
This is a niche area worth exploring that would necessitate the labour market entry of food and agricultural biologists, scientists, economists, engineers, farmers, etc. Creating an entrepreneurial climate is the key to successful innovators and business diversification within Canadian agriculture. There may be an opportunity to align with other industry players, both upstream and downstream, towards a common regional strategy for re-defining agriculture based on a climate of innovation.
The Agriculture Institute of Canada report also outlines specific recommendations:
- Start the process of examining new business models, management systems and market approaches based on innovation and diversification.
- Undertake a critical review of policies, programs and regulations to streamline them.
- Explore providing infrastructure support and development to small communities, including communications – utilize Ottawa’s strong ICT sector.
- Spend resources on better marketing and linkages and promote a better industry image.
A vibrant agricultural sector may help to attract qualified labour as well.
The Sector Summary: Agriculture was developed in November 2011 to provide in-depth analysis of labour market issue, in response to stakeholder requests.