Logo StatCan COVID-19: Data to Insights for a Better Canada COVID-19 Disruptions and Agriculture: Temporary Foreign Workers

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Key insights

  • Canada’s agriculture sector is a significant source and contributor to the food supply chain in Canada.
  • The agriculture sector is highly dependent on temporary foreign workers (TFW’s).  TFW’s account for 20% of total employment in this sector, with a particularly high dependency in the horticulture industry (e.g. fruits, vegetables, greenhouse and nursery operations).
  • Border restrictions due to COVID-19 could have an impact on the availability of temporary foreign workers during the 2020 growing season, with this decrease in labour potentially impacting Canada’s domestic food production.

Agriculture and Temporary Foreign Workers

Canada’s agriculture industry is a significant source and contributor to our nation’s food supply. Farm cash receipts from the primary agriculture sector amounted to $62.4 billion in 2018, of which $8.4 billion was realized in the horticulture industry - which includes fruits and vegetables and greenhouse operations.

As significant as the agriculture sector is to Canada’s food supply, it is inherently vulnerable due to the seasonality of production, especially in crop production and horticulture; as well as the perishable nature of many products. Seasonal labour is required for production, at very specific times of year, especially during planting in the spring, and harvesting in the summer and fall.

This sector is particularly dependent on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program.  In the context of COVID-19, border restrictions are heightening vulnerabilities related to accessing this workforce and could put Canada’s domestic food production, especially horticulture crops, at risk.

Temporary Foreign Workers are critical to the agriculture sector and have been steadily increasing in Canada over the past twenty years.  In 2018, there were nearly 55,000 jobs filled by temporary foreign workers in Canada’s agriculture industry and these accounted for 20 per cent of total employment in the primary agriculture sector.  Although, temporary foreign workers in 2018 came from nearly 100 countries, the majority came from Mexico (51%); Guatemala (20%) and Jamaica (18%).

Although various aspects of the sector depend on TFW, 84.9% of the jobs filled by TFWs were on 2,393 horticulture farms and 68.4% of these jobs were on large farms with gross receipts of $2 million or more. Horticulture farms include Vegetable and melon, Fruit and tree nut and Greenhouse, nursery and floriculture. Tables 1 and 2 below indicate the degree of vulnerability to labour shortages in the agriculture sector by farm type and by province, respectively.


Table 1
Jobs filled by TFWs in the agriculture sector, and farms with at least one TFW, by farm type, 2018
Table summary
This table displays the results of Jobs filled by TFWs in the agriculture sector Farms with at least one TFW, Jobs filled by TFW and Share of jobs filled by TFW among jobs of all employees, calculated using number and percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Farms with at least one TFW Jobs filled by TFW Share of jobs filled by TFW among jobs of all employeesTable 1 Note 1
number percent
All farm types 3,846 54,734 19.5
Cattle ranching and farming, including dairy 501 1,548 3.2
Hog and pig farming 134 496 5.3
Poultry and egg production 83 446 3.6
Other/mixed animal production 133 784 5.5
Oilseed and grain farming 220 1,089 2.1
Vegetable and melon farming 693 13,210 39.8
Fruit and tree nut farming 1,021 14,848 36.9
Greenhouse, nursery and floriculture production 679 18,389 35.0
Other/mixed crop farming 382 3,924 20.7

Table 2
Jobs filled by TFWs in the agriculture sector, and farms with at least one temporary foreign worker, by province, 2018
Table summary
This table displays the results of Jobs filled by TFWs in the agriculture sector Farms with at least one TFWs, Jobs filled by TFWs and Share of jobs filled by TFWs among jobs of all employees, calculated using number and percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Farms with at least one TFWs Jobs filled by TFWs Share of jobs filled by TFWs among jobs of all employeesTable 2 Note 1
number percent
Canada 3,846 54,734 19.5
Newfoundland and Labrador 7 34 2.8
Prince Edward Island 35 285 6.7
Nova Scotia 73 1,566 19.7
New Brunswick 15 145 2.3
Quebec 1,259 14,653 26.2
Ontario 1,328 25,611 31.2
Manitoba 67 579 3.1
Saskatchewan 103 447 1.7
Alberta 252 1,900 5.7
British Columbia 707 9,514 21.4

Related material

Canadian Agriculture at a glance

Farm cash receipts, January to September 2019

Farm income, 2018 (revised data)

Agricultural sector workers from the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, 2016, 2017 and 2018

Agricultural sector workers from the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, 2015

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