Excerpt from the public Scenario-Based Strategic Planning Report, available HERE.
Lambton County is home to over two thousand individual farms including over 1,600 field crop farms, 345 livestock farms, 43 dairy farms, and 41 orchards and greenhouses.
The onset of COVID-19 posed a number of challenges for the agricultural sector, largely associated with impact the pandemic had on the ability of migrant workers to enter Canada to work with local farmers. Across the country, migrant workers account for 20% of the total employed persons in this sector. In previous years, between 20 – 25,000 migrant workers arrived in Ontario to work on farms and in greenhouse.
This year, that number was significantly limited due to pandemic related border restrictions leading to fears of severe labour shortages resulting in disruptions to our local food production and supply chain. The uncertainty created by these shortages led local farmers to make dramatic changes to their business operations.
Farms that had traditionally produced ground (vegetable) crops heavily dependent on harvest workers began looking to shift to field crops (namely soy) that can be more readily reaped with farming equipment and fewer workers. This impact of this shift to local food supplies is yet to be fully grasped.
The already highly regulated meat-processing sector was hit hard by the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions at the local abattoirs causing a production backlog and reduction in supply in early days of the pandemic. Easing of regulations has since increased production and reduced the backlog.
In the economic region of Sarnia-Windsor, employments levels in Agriculture for November surpassed those from the spring and early summer by over 17% and were shown to be greater than those in November 2019. This is likely due to the increased admission of temporary foreign workers into the region and rebound in food processing operations since the beginning of March.
The long-term concerns centering around the supply of skilled labourers to work within food processing have been exacerbated by the pandemic, due in large part to the reduced hands on training available. Several local initiatives predating COVID-19 were designed to introduce high school students to the diverse career opportunities within agriculture, including a co-op program (postponed indefinitely) and job fairs (held virtually in place of in person events).
Being a leader in adaptability and innovation, the agricultural sector has been working to seize the opportunities presented by these times of change to develop resilient operating and growth models designed to support farmers and attract local skilled talent. These stabilizing sector adaptations will be critical to ensuring stability in the food supply chain.