Efficiency - labour

The solutions  are broadly positioned within a Well-being framework, particularly the Engine of Well Being Framework  and a skills ecosystem approach. I’m interesting in 3 strategic objectives related to policy and programme design: attract and retain talent to particular skilled requirements related to food system change (requires making the job and the external environment attractive); integrate disadvantaged groups (requires integration of social programs and labour force development, basic skills, different learning modes, culturally specific training) and upskilling those in employment (off and on-site training, career clusters and ladders) so that the jobs and people are better able to deliver a better food system (Froy & Giguere, 2010).

Model scenarios of labour force and wage changes for a new food system

Collect better labour market data

Improve Temporary Foreign Worker Programmes (TFWP)

Improve training and retraining

Integrate food system job link projects

Improve sustainability education in agricultural universities and colleges

Improve governance of the labour force system

Improve intergenerational farm transfer programs

Shift processing to provision of healthy and sustainable foods


Model scenarios of labour force and wage changes for a new food system

Can we shift labour from less to more necessary functions as part of the transition to health-promoting and sustainable food systems? In other words, is this 38% of the food bill really the best way to employ labour in the system sense?  Labour in the food system is very linked to price and who extracts value, and historically most of the value is extracted by retailers, manufacturers and farm input providers (Scott Wolfe Management, 2005; Vorley et al., 1995). In a way, their labour is rewarded at the expense of farmers, farmworkers and other low wage workers in food supply chains. The movement to health and sustainability suggests much more minimal processing, elimination of a wide range of foods with limited nutritional value, shortening of complex, long-distance supply chains, and low – input production systems (see Table), all of which will affect how food is handled and who extracts value from it. Rather than forecasting where new jobs will come from as do many reports addressing the current environment, we need to look at the food system goals above and translate them into the activities and associated jobs that will bring them to fruition.

Table: Sub-sectoral labour changes with the shift to a health promoting and sustainable food system (note that in some sub-sectors, the types and location of labour may shift but not affect total labour in the sector) (extrapolated from MacRae et al., 1989; MacRae et al., 1990; MacRae et al., 2009; Desjardins et al., 2010; MacRae et al., 2010; MacRae, 2011; MacRae et al., 2012; MacRae et al., 2014a, b)
Increase Decrease
Farmers, urban growers, domestic farm workers; women and BIPOC participation Farm managers (non-family corporations, absentee owners), temporary foreign workers; white men governing the food system
Farm design, knowledge and management (farmers and consultants); on-farm research and development practitioners; input reduction advisors Fuel production and handling workers; Input manufacturers, conventional plant and animal breeders, and salespeople; government officials working on approvals and regulatory monitoring
Producers of fruits and vegetables and specialty commodities Animal and animal feeds (crop production, feed manufacturing and distribution) producers, renderers
Fruit, vegetable and legume cleaners and packers Food manufacturers (reduced animal products, sugar and confectionary, beverage and highly processed items including snack foods); new product developers
Regional aggregators International brokers and retail category managers
Rail and inland shippers Long-haul truckers and air cargo services
Specialty caterers Food service jobs in quick service establishments
Alternative food retailers and direct marketing Supermarket and general merchandizer staff
Food system planners and transition advisors Food advertizing and marketing agencies
Community health care providers; health promotion and disease prevention specialists Hospital-based health care providers
Waste prevention and energy efficiency specialists


Similarly, it would be important to model possible wage changes.  Although wages for farm labourers do not appear to be a limiting employment factor (see TFW discussion below), in other sectors, wage levels are below averages in related positions and help to discourage applicants. These problems are acute for some positions in food retail[1], such as cashiers[2], and food service[3].  Often wage levels can be increased when process changes improve productivity or generate more revenue.  For example, a restaurant can pay more for skilled chefs who work better with raw materials (including butchering animal sides) and then designing a flexible menu based on what foods are available for a reasonable price. Many restaurants hire cooks with more limited training and experience and rely on pre-cooked, frozen and packaged foods that require less skill. The quality and frequent menu changes attract a clientele willing to pay a higher price.  Staff retention can be higher because of the creativity in the offerings (Rosenblatt, 2009). These kinds of scenarios can be modeled in different sectors to see how they affect prices.

We know neither how all these shifts will affect the labour component of the consumer food and restaurant bill, nor, the overall effect on the cost of food. Ecological systems will be more expensive per unit in the near term, with typically more on-farm labour or knowledge and management requirements. Unit costs for many innovative approaches may rise because production volumes/area or process are typically lower.  However, certain other labour-related costs will decline in a "good food, good jobs" scenario, including job retention, training and rehiring costs, and these cost reductions may mitigate food price increases associated with better quality and employment  (Zizys, 2015). The transition to a new food system then will involve shifting multiple dimensions simultaneously to create optimal pathways of change.  This kind of modelling has yet to be undertaken in Canada.

Collect better labour market data

A commonly cited barrier to improving labour force development in the current environment is the limited data available[4]. And these data limitations also curtail the possibilities of good normative modeling (see above). As an example of the implications of poor data, federal Labour Market Opinions (LMO) have been somewhat inaccurate, with excessive reliance on online job boards that appear to have inflated the number of positions available. It is thought that more TFWs have been approved than are likely required because of these LMO inaccuracies.

Verna (2012) has argued that better national labour market data can be obtained by modifying earlier data collection processes such as the former Workplace and Employee Survey (WES). Now discontinued, it could be brought back in a modified form that follows demand- and supply-side practices, and with linkages to monthly (or quarterly) employment statistics from the Labour Force Survey. Employment and unemployment data would need to be broken down by occupational skill categories (e.g., creative, service, working) and by income.

Following criticisms of recent changes to data collection, the federal government  returned to more traditional approaches, with a quarterly hiring plans survey of 100,000 employers, and a wage survey to reveal wage information by region.  Statistics Canada expects the job vacancy survey to reveal the number of vacancies, the regions with the greatest labour shortages, average offered wage per occupation, vacancies by level of education and experience and the proportion of vacancies that are difficult to fill (Curry, 2015). This would address some, but not all of Verma’s suggestions. Local workforce planning boards (see below) also collect data that is not well used beyond the local level. It needs to be tied into provincial data aggregating processes.

Improve Temporary Foreign Worker Programmes (TFWP)

Numerous reports and articles have been written on how to improve the TFW programmes in the  food system (Hennebry & Preibisch, 2010; Justicia for Migrant Workers, 2006; Preibisch, 2007; UFCW, 2011; UFCW & Canadian Agricultural Workers Alliance, 2014; Faraday, 2016; Clause, 2020; Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, 2020). Canada is not a signatory to the United Nations International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. Many of the recommendations for change involve: first, determining more accurately whether TFWs are required; second, ensuring that program rules are actually followed by all actors, from recruiters to program administrators, to farmers and firms; and third, enhancing the rights of migrant workers to more fully reflect the work, safety and benefit conditions of Canadian workers, including the right to organize.

As McKnight (2014) has highlighted, a key structural problem is farm income. Farmers legitimately conclude that low farmgate prices signal the need to control operating costs, including labour.  As domestic workers appear to be hard to find under existing conditions, this reality becomes a rationale for TFWs. But McKnight cites farmers who claim that all-in program costs for migrant workers in Ontario amount to $20/hr. The Agriculture and Agri-food Labour Task Force has produced average cost estimates of over $12000 / TFW in agricultural labour, before wages compared to $125 / worker for domestic workers (Glen, 2015a). So, such workers are not necessarily cheaper. From McKnight’s research, it would appear that skills and reliability are more important factors, with the reliability question in part a function of the inherent power dynamics of  precarious employment status and limited legal recourse if rights are not respected. The Task Force argues that with farm wage rates at $12-30/hr, remuneration is not the fundamental problem. Instead, conditions of work, seasonality and the need to relocate are more critical factors (Glen, 2015a). All this suggests, as highlighted above, that shifting those conditions should be more the focus.  At the efficiency stage, the recommendations in categories 1 and 2 above should be implemented, with those requiring changes to the farm operation and farm finances picked up at the substitution and redesign stages.  The COVID-19 emergency has placed a bright spotlight on working and living conditions in the program (see also Get Started, Problems, General, Lack of resilience), forcing the federal government to launch consultations in Oct. 2020 about how to improve the program.  The government claims to be looking for long term solutions to the problems of living conditions.  New rules were supposed to be in place before the spring 2021 (Arnason, 2020), with additional federal dollars available for better housing and working conditions in the face of the COVID emergency. To that end, the federal government announced in April 2021 that up to 30,000 temporary workers in essential categories outside of health care and including the food system (but not all types of temporary  seasonal farmworkers since job offers must be for full time and permanent work) would be able to apply for permanent residency. Based on the original design, how easily TFWs might navigate the application process remained unclear (Dickson and Ibbitson, 2021).  To date, there have been very few applications, likely because of the educational requirements and difficulties with documentation, second language challenges, and limited access to computers and the internet. Many employers have hesitated to send in requests after the first round because the process has been very slow (Hannay, 2021).  Although some agricultural organization's claim they have evidence that those granted permanent residency will remain for 10 years (see Arnason, 2021), there are uncertainties about how many workers will remain in food system work after permanent residency is granted, with the potential implication that granting residency, while a just response to the current inequities of the system, may do little to address labour force problems.

A related initiative is the federal Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot, designed in theory to redress the urban bias of immigration policy.  Eleven communities are part of the pilot, including several with significant food system employment gaps. Launched in the spring of 2021, it is not clear that this program will have any greater success than the program for TFWs.

Improve training and retraining

A well-positioned labour force requires “a good stock of higher ‐ level generic skills (the ability to analyse, problem‐solve, communicate well, be creative) through early years (pre‐school) and school age education, and secondly .... training where people can learn more specialist skills throughout their working lives” (OECD, 2014:18).  Thus, there are layers of training: basic skills, sectoral skills, and specific firm skills.

Although there are many federal and provincial training programs (see summary in Table) with a range of emphases that sometimes cross the boundaries between social policy, labour force development and economic development, “previously collected data suggest that Canada lags behind other leading nations in its support for training” (Verma, 2014:77). For what currently exists, flexibility is currently limited by the nature of federal program agreements with the provinces, and by the requirements provinces have of their third party service providers.  It is unclear, thus, whether they are very effective[5].  For example, the  Canadian Job Grant program is supposed to cover up to 2/3 of the costs of trainers, up to $10,000 / grant (therefore $15000 to the training grant recipient), with a funding formula of 1/3 federal, 1/3 provincial, 1/3 employer. But it has received significant criticism for taking money away from EI training targeted to the most marginalized (money was gradually being pulled out of the LMAs [Mendelson and Zon, 2013; see table]), and for limiting provincial flexibility around program execution. The federal government was attempting to negotiate “pay for performance” with the provinces that more quickly moves unemployed Canadians from EI to the work force (Curry, 2015). Designed to challenge the effectiveness of provincial programmes, it may also reduce federal expenditures and require provinces to support more training with fewer dollars. Consistent with recent approaches, the programme focuses more on higher skills than basic skills. Some believe it will result in additional training among those already hired, but not substantially increase new hires. The other traditional part of this approach is its voluntary nature. It follows an unfortunate pattern of program design at the federal level: put out a program, let interested firms apply, do not target the program to those most in need or those contributing most to a problem.  It typically means those already committed use training money to offset expenses and those reluctant to participate do not apply (Mendelsen & Zon, 2013).

Unfortunately, in Canada we have not sufficiently evaluated training programs to have a clear picture of which program designs produce the best outcomes. However, many assessments are currently under way, so our knowledge base will hopefully soon be expanding. While some important pieces are in place, most current programmes appear to have significant gaps in their ability to meet client needs, but equally, existing assessments have proposed how to fill those gaps (Myers et al., 2011).  At the efficiency stage, those proposals should be implemented to increase program flexibility and reduce gaps in coverage and eligibility.

Table : Some government training programmes

Federal Description
The federal government has a wide range of programs targeted to different groups, including aboriginal peoples, newcomers, people with disabilities, youth and students, and veterans. Available at: http://www.servicecanada.gc.ca/eng/subjects/education/Index.shtml

Some of these are delivered with the provinces

The 2019 Federal Budget announced new training funding, but details are still limited. (see Prime Minister's Office)

Labour market development agreements and labour market agreements Transfers $2.5 billion to provinces for skills development.   Administers dimensions of training and skills development under the EI Act, being transformed into the Canada Job Fund agreements. EI framework was used because the federal government has jurisdiction.
Deliver LMA and LDMA, and now Canada Job Grant, Provide a wide range of career counseling usually through 3rd parties and training, usually public-private mix involving community colleges.
Range of programs funded by provinces alone Usually linked to colleges and universities
Many programs for social assistance recipients Designed to help people move from social assistance to employment


At – risk groups

Given these realities, Burt (2014) asks: how do we employ more under –utilized workers (youth, aboriginal, disabled, women) in the food system?  Improving performance requires both operational flexibility within education and training programs, and strategic management flexibility among local organizations that identify needs and deliver programs (education and vocational training being largely provincial responsibilities often with municipal delivery). In Canada, the apprenticeship system (see below) has tended to favour semi-skilled workers with some workplace experience, rather than youth and other marginalized groups (Sharpe & Gibson, 2005).

Within these layers of training, sectoral training programs designed around both the needs of the sector and the targeted current or potential employees are the most effective, combined training involving basic education, technical skills and apprenticeships.  For younger workers, career counseling to match skills and interests with job tracks is important.  This kind of approach is long term and more expensive.  Among marginalized groups, it is the most challenging finding effective programme designs for displaced older workers. It may be that other social supports are more critical for these groups, given that job prospects are not promising even with training (Greenstone and Looney, 2011).

Such integrated sectoral approaches are rare at the Canadian food industry level, but some food NGOs are taking advantage of the existing suite of programs to focus on training for food system change for marginalized groups, including FoodShare Toronto, the Environmental Youth Alliance of Vancouver (FoodShare, 2013), and Community Food Centres Canada and partners. These programs provide both core skills training and general preparation for employability, and more specialized training in different dimensions of food system change. Some also arrange post-training placements in food organizations and businesses. These programmes are resource intensive and typically require experienced organizations with significant budgets and diverse programming that can be integrated with the training process.  Unfortunately, there are not yet enough Canadian food organizations with these capacities. To help with the scaling up and out process (Johnston and Baker, 2005), government program administrators should create funding streams within existing programs dedicated to food organizations. They should not, however, require tripartite funding since such groups rarely have the resources to put in their own money in order to access federal and provincial funds. And given that they are providing basic skills for other organizations and firms, it makes no conceptual sense for this to be a grant requirement.

Vocational programs and apprenticeship supports

In Canada, many employers are reporting shortages in the middle skills categories. This category, compared to low and high skills positions, is showing the most significant losses or the lowest rates of increase (Grant, 2013; Zizys, 2011). Solutions revolve around better pathways for vocational education and apprenticeships, but Canada has a poor record of vocational training at the high school level, in part because of a long history of disdain for practical education associated with our colonial educational history and patterns of immigration (Lyons et al., 1991).  European countries have been much more assertive in their efforts to encourage people to enter the trades, with a much more robust system of vocational training and apprenticeship supports. More success may result when: the vocational programme has close ties to local labour market (e.g., the German apprenticeship approach breaks down the space between school and industry as do many other countries in Europe which quickens the transition to work and results in lower youth unemployment); courses are taught by technicians from those labour markets; basic skills are taught in the context of job skills; each participant has a specifically designed program; and the local labour market has confidence in the program (Andersen & van de Werfhorst, 2010).   Canada needs to move closer to the European model, and some high school / community college / trades arrangements are already moving in this direction, for example, the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) Polytechnic in Calgary and their carpentry program.  This approach needs scaling up and out to a wider set of trades with food system employability.

Red Seal trades are eligible for apprenticeship support (e.g., plumbers, electricians, carpenters) and some are as widely plied in the food system as other economic sectors. Processors will often have them on staff or contract to deal with facility and equipment malfunctions. There are also specific food system job categories that are currently eligible for apprenticeship supports. For example, the Ontario College of Trades recognizes three agricultural designations (dairy herdsperson, swine herdsperson and fruit grower), two categories of baker, four categories of cook/chef, one horticultural technician, and one retail meat cutter.

Demand from employers appears to be the limiting factor (Sharpe and Gibson, 2005). Some financial incentives for employers have been put in place to encourage them to participate, such as the Apprenticeship Training Tax Credit in Ontario, up to $10,000 per year, with a maximum of $40,000 over 4 years for salaries and benefits and fees paid to an employment agency. But a more profound issue is improving the quality of the apprentices. Firms are not convinced they will receive enough quality work for their training investment, and worry about poaching (Sharpe and Gibson, 2005). This has implications along the apprenticeship chain and demands quality improvements at every stage.  As an efficiency stage measure, and to compensate for private sector hesitation, the public sector could play a larger role and create more internal apprenticeship positions (OECD, 2014).

The three current Ontario agricultural designations are arbitrary among farm positions and more would have the same kind of characteristics. The number of other food system positions recognized as trades should also be expanded.

In-firm training for basic and firm specific skills

... publicly-provided education imparts general skills, with the expectation that it is up to individual firms to provide the specific skills relevant to their business. Employers, however, prefer to hire fully-trained employees, as training in-house entails both significant costs and risks ....(Sharpe & Gibson, 2005:81).

Ideally, public education would provide basic skills, but for many individuals this does not happen and many workplaces are reluctant to invest in them, despite the benefits.  Workplace literacy and essential skills training pays off for firms. An OECD report concluded that “differences in the average use of reading skills explain around 30% of the variation in labour productivity across countries” (OECD, 2013). A study of the hotel industry found increased worker productivity and greater customer satisfaction leading to greater sales resulted in a net gain to the firm. Also workers are more likely to stay within a firm that offers such training, so recruitment and retention costs are lower  (CB Insights, 2014).

Governments appear to be struggling to effectively incentivize reluctant employers as there is some evidence that wage or training subsidy programmes reduce costs for those already committed to training but do not typically bring new firms on board (Mendelsen and Zon, 2013). There has appeared to be a mismatch between the kind of training supported by government and what industry is willing to co-fund (ESDC, Strategic Policy and Research Branch. 2010). As governments do not spend much on upside training, and what they do fund is often connected to “innovation”, many firms do not find such supports well suited to their needs. This may be particularly problematic in the low skill areas, where “innovation” happens from the shop floor and governments are less likely to support those processes.

Low-skill equilibrium regions appear to be a blindspot for Canadian policy development. They attract less attention because they are not seen as glamorous in terms of attracting new investments and the latest technologies. But lack of priority for their development is worrying in terms of the long term sustainability of these jobs and communities. (Verma, 2012:79).

One way to address this problem of reluctant employers is to train at the sectoral, rather than firm, level.  Quebec and Manitoba have developed training approaches for smaller firms in the same industry to pool resources. This strategy should be adopted across all provinces.  It spreads costs across more actors, reduces the likelihood of poaching and allows smaller firms that are unlikely to invest individually to benefit from enhanced training.

Integrate food system job link projects

At the moment, there are too many incomplete occupation data collection and posting sites and they are not linked.  The federal Canadian Occupational Projection System (COPS), which provinces also use, estimates employment growth from industry output and employment forecasts, and retirements and death based on demographic data.  They do have a number of food system positions, but others are likely embedded in generic categories.  The codes for food system occupations though are scattered across the system, making them more difficult to find and aggregate. The data seem imprecise as the site reports limited openings in agricultural and aquacultural labourers and food service, areas with reputed significant shortages or high turnover.

The CAHRC has a new project, the National Agricultural Occupational Framework & Labour Market Support. “This project will result in detailed occupational information for: General Farm Labourer (entry), General Farm Worker (experienced), Farm Supervisor, & Farm Manager and include development of NOSs, Competency Profiles, Job Descriptions, as well as learning and qualification requirements for each of 40 roles.” [6] The project only addresses agricultural positions.  A number of NGOs run job sites that have alternative food system jobs.  Local labour force development boards may also have data that is only circulated locally.

A first step towards integration is having the CAHRC collaborate with the Grocery HR and Food Processing HR Councils to create a unified board across all their sectors (see section on governance).  A second phase is to integrate formally with the federal Canadian Occupational Projection System.  A third, more complex, phase is addressed under Substitution.

Improve sustainability education in agricultural universities and colleges

Joined up food policy requires new skill sets of those entering the job market. For those staying in their jobs, it means retraining. These shifts place significant pressure on the post-secondary institutional system to train for the right purposes, both new entrants but also to support firms and institutions with professional development. Only some pieces of this are in place and there are only limited ways to construct a more coordinated system across the country.  At the moment, colleges and universities are primarily competing with each other for new students in this area.

Progress on integrating sustainability into agricultural education in Canada has been slow but improving. Hill & MacRae (1988) set out an idealized approach almost 30 years ago and, although advances have been made in most institutions[7], no university or college in Canada has fully implemented it. Practical education, or diploma programs, historically targeted to the children of farmers who wished to take over operations, have been in decline as the intergenerational transfer challenges have increased.  However, in general, enrollment at agricultural schools is on the rise and linkages with industry are improving, though such collaborations remain largely within the conventional agriculture domain (Van Lent, 2014). Given these realities, new programmes offered by non-traditional institutions have appeared, designed to attract new entrants to farming and agricultural occupations (while also appealing to some from farm families with an interest in new approaches)[8].

Also important is to further develop sustainable food system education in regulated professions, for example, professional agrologists, and urban planners who focus on food system change.  Agrologist education for professional designation is quite specific in some provinces and changing the curriculum involves not only approvals at the university level, but also within the profession itself. Planning for urban food systems faces the additional challenge of overcoming the profession’s historical reluctance to view food as an urban issue, made more complex by the need to integrate sustainability themes at the same time (Mendes et al., 2011).  Scientist education is also a challenge. MacRae et al. (1989) set out the transition to new approaches and little of this agenda has been implemented.

A related opportunity is linking university and college sustainable food systems education directly to food system firms.  With increasing recognition of the need to shift their business focus to sustainable products and processes, firms have greater need for professional development.  Many default to in-house training that suits views of sustainability within the firm, but such approaches are typically too limited if food system change is the ultimate objective.  University continuing education approaches are typically too general.  They appeal to professionals within firms, but do not necessarily engage the firm itself, except perhaps that permission is granted to take a continuing education course and even have the costs reimbursed.  But typically, a continuing education course provides new skills to the employee but then leaves them on their own to attempt to navigate change internal to the firm.  While a general understanding of food system change is an important precursor, what's often needed is a targeted training regime that speaks to the firm context and engages both the student and managers in the examination of change strategies.  Few, if any, university and college programs addressing food systems take this kind of approach.   Their continuing education offerings are frequently too general, and too rigidly structured to deliver such programming.  Canadian business school professional development, while structurally more suitable, is typically very weak on sustainable food systems. This has to change to seize the opportunities arising within progressive businesses.

Improving sustainable agriculture education will have to be driven by the FPT Miniisters of Agriculture, working with the Association of Canadian  Faculties of Agricultural and Veterinary Medicine and provincial bodies of professional agrologists.  To some extent, their approach can mirror what has happened regarding Education for Sustainable Development in Departments of Education.  The Council of Ministers of Education (see Swayze et al., 2012) has been pushing (albeit somewhat slowly) for improved B.Ed. programming, working with the Deans of the Faculties of Education.  A sustainable agriculture approach could learn from the partial successes of that education effort.  Such an initiative would be broadly consistent with implementation of a national food policy as proposed by the Trudeau government. It would require a mix of pressure for program changes, orchestrated by quality assurance bodies, professional associations and ministries of agriculture, combined with financial incentives for program re-configuration.

Improve governance of the labour force system

At the efficiency stage, governance can be improved by unifying the three existing HR councils into one integrated organization.  This is admittedly challenging since the participating firms and organizations have not historically viewed themselves as collaborators.  Consequently, it may only occur with encouragement from the federal government.  At various points, the three sectoral councils (or earlier iterations) have received financing from the federal Sector Council Program (later the Sectoral Initiatives Program). This program

funds partnership-based projects that are national in scope and/or nationally significant and that support the development of labour market information, national occupational standards and certification/accreditation regimes, to address skills shortages in strategic sectors of Canada’s economy.[9].

However, it is not accepting applications[10]. In a reboot of the programme, administrators would have to explicitly support a food system, rather than solely sub-sectoral, strategy. There have been significant criticisms of the funding mechanism in the past, and the program needs to link better with labour force development initiatives at other levels (see substitution discussion) (ESDC Strategic Policy and Research Branch, 2010). Local workforce development boards are often underdeveloped or underutilized (Verma, 2012), but their efforts could support a national food system HR council.

Improve intergenerational farm transfer programs

[T]he skill sets and competencies required of a successful farmer are astounding – and surpass the capabilities of many professionals. The entry skill sets required of a beginning farmer are much higher today (Scholz, 2009:3)

In order to encourage the intergenerational transfer of the farm family businesses a number of different approaches have been employed by governments and other organizations. Such approaches included financial assistance to encourage the transfer and help with restructuring of the farm business, approaches through fiscal policy to help with capital exchanges from owner to successor, innovative land tenure arrangements may be very important, educational programs to effect informed decisions before and during the succession process and matching services that match landowners/farmers with qualified new entrants. (Baker et al., 2013:240).

Others, for example Scholz (2009), add to this list: succession planning, business training, mentoring and apprenticeships, attracting first nations and immigrants to agriculture, and coordination.

Although there have been program enhancements in response to the rising concern about the situation,  the useful pieces are underutilized,  not rounded out with the elements listed above, and coordination is limited across jurisdictions. For example, one of the main federal programs, the Canadian Agricultural Loan Act (CALA) program, was expanded to include increased financing for farmers with fewer than six years of experience and allows for the intergenerational transfer of incorporated farms.  However, “the proportion of CALA backed loans issued to beginning/startup farmers (farmers with less than 6 years’ experience) is disproportionately low.” And uptake of intergenerational loans has been very low (AAFC Office of Audit and Evaluation. 2014).  The robustness of provincial programming is variable (it appears SK and QC have the best supports)[11].

Succession planning challenges are not well supported in current schemes, and these challenges point to the program design changes that are required[12].

  • 4-5 years of planning is typically required. Many plans get started but are not completed.  Success requires strong communication skills amongst the parties, skills that are often lacking, especially over the long term. Schemes need to be designed with such a time period in mind.
  • It’s not usually the innovators/early adopters requiring so much help, but rather everyone else, and because programme participation is voluntary, those in need are not likely the first ones to use supports. Program administrators need to do better targeting, based on farm demographics that identify regions and commodity areas with significant implications for food system stability.
  • Transfer of major assets is a huge challenge given current costs. There is some evidence that what programmes offer in financial supports does not address the challenges of transferring major assets.  But equally, for intergenerational succession, financial tools have to be bundled with other program components to be more effective.  They can be combined with new entrant programs in other domains, for example, the supply managed commodities should expand existing quota loan programs. Saskatchewan had a community land bank program that would be valuable for giving new farmers affordable access to land.
  • Much more attention is given to intergeneration transfers than to new entrant transfers, especially the need to attract non-rural youth without access to traditional farm assets. Because of competition from other agribusiness firms for people with farm backgrounds, and the appeal of many professions outside farming, it is unlikely that farm families will ever again produce enough people who want to stay in agriculture. Consequently, programs need to place a premium on attracting non-farm new entrants. Robichaud (2012)[13] highlighted the deficiencies in Ontario programmes in this regard. Mentoring and apprenticeship dimensions appear to be particularly valuable to non-farm new entrants but these are largely operated by NGOs[14]Farm Management Canada’s mentorship programme has been suspended for lack of funds.

There may also be interest among recent immigrant and aboriginal groups.  “While immigrants make up 30% of Ontario’s labour force as a whole, they only comprise 15% of the province’s farmers.” (Seccombe, 2007). Saskatchewan has a matchmaking program between retiring farmers and immigrant farmers (the Provincial Nominee program). Some training and support programs exist for First Nations in some prairie provinces, but much more could be done.

Business training cannot just be designed for large – scale operations. Small scale diversified ones are an important part of the future. Training should also promote collaboration (value chains, marketing and labour), as this contributes to many successful operations by reducing costs and risk. Training must also address producing with fewer resources and inputs. Under Growing Forward, only Saskatchewan and Ontario provide cost-sharing on training, which likely limits participation by small to medium operations in other provinces.

Shift processing to provision of healthy and sustainable foods

SME food processing (under 200 employees) is far and away the largest processing segment by number of establishments (AAFC, 2015) and therefore by total employees.  Although food manufacturing in general has proven to be resilient in revenue and employment relative to other manufacturing sectors (Sparling & Cheney, 2014), it needs to keep adapting to stay viable. Some propose a traditional international competitiveness strategy for the sector, and certainly many regulatory impediments to other kinds of innovation are rooted in the presumption of large scale and international trade, but there is a different kind of innovation that some in the sector pursue.  Named in the interviews of an OECD study as innovation were:”unique product, 100% Canadian, going local, consistently high quality, value over price, going green, hand-made, direct retail, responsive, green/organic, enhanced quality, customer loyalty,”.  Firms also highlighted that it is important to be “being small enough to be responsive to changes in consumer habits/tastes.” (Verma, 2012:58).

In general, policy actors have shown limited interest in food processing despite its economic significance (Sparling & Cheney, 2014), and even less support for this kind of innovation, although some ministries of agriculture do have food processing facilitators, and some municipalities have incubators for new start ups. There are major gaps in food processing infrastructure if the objective is to provide basic foods for domestic needs.  Some associations provide training and market analysis supports for SMEs (eg., the Small-scale Food Processors Association, SSFPA), but a key challenge is how to capitalize small operations, since private investors are unlikely to find the scale to their liking.  To address this kind of problem, Christianson & Morgan (2007) proposed a $20 million SME capital fund, to be established by government but possibly with third party administration, at market rates for organic processors in the $0.5-$10 million sales range.


[1] Average general sales and service wage rate in Jan. 15 Canada, $16.70 (Retrieved from: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/labr69a-eng.htm)

[2] Average cashier wage in Toronto is $11.00/ hr (Retrieved from: http://www.livingin-canada.com/salaries-for-cashiers-canada.html)

[3] Food service supervisor is $12.50, bartender $13.50, cook  11.50, chefs 15.50 (Retrieved from: http://www.livingin-canada.com/salaries-for-cashiers-canada.html)

[4] It is recognized that employers commonly identify gaps that are not really there, that they want higher skilled people at entry level wages (Sharpe & Gibson, 2005)

[5] This varies by province. For example, Quebec offers greater flexibility than Ontario (OECD, 2014).

[6] Retrieved from: http://www.cahrc-ccrha.ca/skills-training/national-agricultural-occupational-framework-labour-market-support

[7] See for example, http://www.dal.ca/faculty/agriculture/oacc/en-home/education/university-organic.html

[8] Retrieved from: http://www.dal.ca/faculty/agriculture/oacc/en-home/education/technical-training.html

[9] Cited on: http://www.esdc.gc.ca/eng/jobs/lmi/sectoral_initiatives/index.shtml. There were 33 Sectoral Councils funded, including some doing food work.

[10] As of Jan. 6, 2015

[11] Scholz (2009:20) has summary charts of programs offered.

[12] Adapted from Scholz (2009)

[13] Meanwhile, many young urbanites, with no traditional family – based access to farm assets, are keen to farm, but existing support programs do not recognize their challenges. See Goal 8.

[14] See for example Everdale Environmental Learning Centre and  and Farmstart.