With the federal election just around the corner, Canadian agriculture groups want their industry to be part of the discussion. Some are expressing concern over workforce issues. Right now in Canada, there are over 1,000 vacant jobs in the meat-processing sector alone.

The latest group to come forward with concerns is the Canadian Pork Council (CPC), who says farmers, industry, and government should work together in addressing labour issues.

"Whether it be on-farm or at processing plants, it's really critical we have a skilled labour force to be able to help bring industry forward and ensure the work gets done," says CPC chair Rick Bergmann. "Basically if the work doesn't get done, then the opportunity goes away."

In their Canadian pork industry platform document, the CPC says it supports the Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Workforce Action Plan (WAP). WAP was developed by an industry labour task force of representatives from various commodities, and the CPC says if implemented, it would bring improvement to recruitment, employment, and retention of workers.

According to the labour task force's update from April, part of the reason the ag sector has trouble finding and keeping employees is because it has some challenges unique to the industry. For example, most job opportunities are in rural areas, which can sometimes make it hard to attract newcomers. It can also be hard to provide permanent, full-time jobs because agriculture revolves on a seasonal basis.

Bergmann says over 100,000 jobs are directly or indirectly related to what happens on the farm, so a strong workforce would help further sustainability in agriculture.

"If that labour is not available here in Canada, then we want the ability to, in a very timely fashion, acquire labour from wherever we need to in order to meet our goals as an industry," he says.

Last month, the Canadian Cattlemen's Association released their election priorities, addressing many concerns, including competitiveness and workforce availability.

"Availability of full-time permanent agricultural and processing labour has become a serious issue threatening the viability of food production in Canada," the document says. "The two largest beef processing facilities in Alberta currently have hundreds of vacancies that they are unable to fill with Canadians despite non-stop recruiting efforts across Canada."

According to the CCA, Canadian packing plants are even deferring high-value exports to American affliates because Canada doesn't have the workers to process our product. They also say importing more labour is one of the only clear choices at the moment.

Both the CCA and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) also support WAP, and are calling on political candidates to address such issues in party platforms.

Ron Bonnett, president of the CFA, says agriculture is really facing an overarching issue in the federal election, in the sense that politicians need to raise the profile of agriculture in Canada.

"I think it's somewhat underestimated, the economic impact we have in Canada in both rural and urban communities, if you consider the production side and the processing side," he says. "I think getting agriculture as part of the discussion going into the election, and making sure some of those keys needs are addressed, is critically important to Canadian farmers."

The CFA will be broadcasting the National Agriculture Leaders Debate online on Sept. 30, and the CPC encourages producers to request meetings with candidates.