Big changes could be coming to Canadian agriculture in the next decade as a new report suggests a significant number of farmers will retire by 2033, leaving the country with a shortage.
At 69 years old, Tim Beirnes is showing no signs of slowing down, and retirement isn’t something the Cambridge farmer thinks about.
“I probably have to consider it, but I’m not willing to retire,” he said.
His children have their own careers, and Beirnes isn’t getting any younger.
“Everyone I know that’s farming is old,” he said with a laugh.
He’s not alone. Over the next decade, retiring is something many Canadian farmers will be doing.
A new study, conducted in partnership with the University of Guelph, suggests 40 per cent of farm operators will retire by 2033.
The report, put together by the Royal Bank of Canada, Boston Consulting Group Centre for Canada’s Future and the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph, said the country will be short 24,000 general farm, nursery and greenhouse operators.
It found these gaps loom at a time when Canada’s agricultural workforce needs to evolve to include skills like data analytics and climate-smart practices that enable us to grow more food with fewer emissions.
The study also estimates that 66 per cent of producers do not have a succession plan in place.
Beirnes said he falls into this category.
“My wife thinks I need a succession plan. But she also thinks I’ll die with my boots on,” he said.
Experts say we could all feel the effects of having fewer farmers.
“For the local economy in the farm region, it means the decline of the local vitality of our rural communities, which is a shame for all sorts of reasons,” Fraser said. “For the urban consumer, I think this will ultimately result in upward pressure on prices.”
To address the shortage and lack of succession plans, the report said Canada will need to accept 30,000 permanent immigrants by 2033 to take over existing farms and greenhouses or establish their own.
“The sector that’s already facing a major skills shortage is about to have an even worse skills shortage because we’re not replacing the farmers that we need,” Evan Fraser, director of the Arrell Food Institute, said.
The report also recommends the country build a new pipeline of domestic operators and workers by bolstering agriculture education and increasing spending on automation, which can make existing farms more efficient.
The report says the shortage will come at a critical moment because Canada’s agricultural sector will need to produce significantly more food for a growing world population but must also cut emissions to meet climate targets.
“In the longer term or the medium, people like me have to do a better job of selling agriculture and food as a career path for young people,” said Fraser.
Meanwhile, for Beirnes, he said once he steps away he assumes his farm operation will be dissolved.
For now, his feet are firmly planted on his farmland, and he is open to any ideas that keep his farm from closing forever.