Labour shortages in agriculture,
a hurdle for our food autonomy
In the agricultural sector, the labour shortage is increasing year after year. In Canada, more than 60,000 foreign workers worked in that sector in 2021 to try to fill the need for labour, an increase of 12% compared to the previous year despite the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. In Québec, the Union des Producteurs Agricoles de la Mauricie indicated that over the past three years, the use of foreign labour has increased by 40% and estimates that 20,000 additional workers will be needed over the next 10 years. This situation is exacerbated by multiple factors, the most significant of which are the local population’s growing lack of interest in working in the fields and an aging farming population. In addition, the transition from traditional to organic production increases labor requirements by at least 2X depending on the crop. These factors threaten not only profitability, but also the survival of many farming operations, especially when considering the increased costs of production resulting from inflation and fertilizer supply issues.
Automation can be effective in supporting farm operations and boosting productivity. Automated agricultural systems help alleviate the pressure of labor shortages by automating mundane tasks and allow skilled workers to perform important tasks. Autonomous tractors are the first examples of replacing multiple workers for field work.
A recent report by the Western Growers Association highlighted the combined effects of labor shortages, rising costs and the adverse impacts of climate change that farmers are facing today to drive the need for innovation in this sector. As a result, global demand for agricultural robots is growing annually by 19% and will increase from US$6.3 billion to US$18 billion by 2027. The Mixing Bowl and Better Food Ventures with the support of the University of California have identified nearly 250 companies in the United States that are automating various agricultural tasks both outdoors for harvesting and indoors for production operations. The details of the publication can be found here.
Among these, only one Québec-based company, Nexus Robotics, is developing an autonomous robotic platform that eliminates weeds and reduces the use of herbicides. Operating 24/7, the Nexus Robotics robot reduces the need for labor and ultimately increases crop productivity.
The development and commercialization of innovative technologies for the automation of agricultural operations is at the heart of efforts to address some of the problems faced by agricultural producers. Supporting companies in the AgTech sector is an integral part of the Ecofuel Fund’s mission.