Canada needs to boost agrifood training in its education systems

  • National Newswatch

The agrifood sector needs to find a way to tell to its story to Canadians.Ottawa—High schools, colleges and universities must offer expanded training for employment in the agrifood system in their curriculums if the sector is to overcome its hefty labour shortages, says Denise Hockaday, Climate Business Director for The Climate Corporation Canada.There also has to a concerted effort to make people more aware of all the career possibilities that exist in agrifood, she said during a Globe and Mail webinar. Just meeting the growing demands for more traceability and improved sustainability on farmers and food processors will offer many possibilities.“People don't even know about the opportunities; we need a concerted effort to make everyone aware of them.” The pandemic has raised interest in the Canadian food production from farm to fork and people want to know more about where their food comes from, she said.The message from the agrifood sector has to be presented in a way that will convince them to listen, she said. It also must address the big disconnect between the public and the real world of agriculture and food production, which isn't helped by a lack of educational training.At the same time, the agrifood sector has to start talking to young people about what modern farming is all about and the employment possibilities in it, she said. “We will have a big gap in the sector if we don't get educated people into the industry.”With a big generational changing of the guard in farming coming, the agrifood sector should work at explaining the challenges the incoming generation of producers will face, she said. “It's an opportunity to tell our story.“Right now, there is a disconnect between the sector and the public. We need fresh eyes to work on that and explain how modern farming actually works. Few people understand how technology driven modern agriculture is. Farmers many wear many hats.”Hockaday says an existing program aimed at Grade 8 students is a good start. “It talks to them about agriculture in general and how the sector needs people. There's lots of people who grow up without any connection to a farm and they don't know why farmers do what they do.”Hockaday grew up an Ontario dairy farm graduated from the University of Guelph with an agriculture degree and took a job at Monsanto as a summer student doing field trials for YieldGuard Rootworm, then a corn to maximize the efficiency of their operation.Alex Binkley is a freelance journalist and writes for domestic and international publications about agriculture, food and transportation issues. He's also the author of two science fiction novels with more in the works.