Labour has a major impact on Canadian fruit and vegetable production.

The fresh fruit and vegetable industry relies upon thousands of workers coming into Canada as part of the Agricultural Stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and the Seasonal Agriculture Worker Program (SAWP) to plant, cultivate, process, harvest and pack our products. Because agricultural jobs are generally located in rural communities and are seasonal in nature, it is often difficult to hire Canadians who generally prefer year-round work and who are concentrated in urban centres.

The seasonal and labour-intensive nature of many growing operations also means that Canadian horticulture relies more heavily on international workers than do other segments of agricultural production, with 43% of horticultural workers coming from outside Canada, (compared to 17% for the rest of agriculture), and 61% of horticultural farmers hiring foreign workers, (compared to 35% for the rest of agriculture).

Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the labour gap in horticulture was already becoming a crisis and is expected to increase to 46,500 jobs by 2025 – the largest labour gap in the agricultural sector. The pandemic has exacerbated this problem and labour shortages now span the entire supply chain, particularly in warehouse labour.

CPMA has released a report, Workforce Needs in the Produce Supply Chain: 2021 Findings , based on research conducted in fall 2021 through a member survey and follow-up interviews, with responses representative of the total produce supply chain in Canada. Its findings show widespread labour shortages with impacts to businesses’ productivity, sales, profitability, access to products and new business development. 

In 2019, the Canadian Horticultural Council produced a documentary to honour international farm workers. CPMA is a proud sponsor of ‘Heartbeat – A Celebration of International Farm Workers’, and encourages all Canadians to watch this film to better understand where their food comes from and the important role of international farm workers in Canadian agriculture.