Canadian Occupational Projection System (COPS)

Industrial Summary


(NAICS 1111-1119; 1121-1129; 1151-1152)

The industry is composed of three segments: crop production (78% of total production in 2018); animal production (16%); and related support activities (6%). Crop production includes oilseeds, grains, fruits, vegetables, plants, vines and cannabis. Animal production is the process of raising cattle, hog, poultry and other animals for generating meat, egg and dairy products. It also includes aquaculture and apiculture. Examples of related support activities are harvesting, fertilizing and sterilizing services, and any services related to raising livestock, including companion animals. Crop production is highly export-oriented, while animal production is mostly domestic-oriented. The industry employed a total of 277,200 workers in 2018, with 45% in crop production and 47% in animal production. Employment is largely concentrated in Ontario (25%), Quebec (20%), Alberta (18%) and Saskatchewan (13%). The workforce is characterized by a high proportion of men (70%) and self-employed (57%). Key occupations (4-digit NOC) include:

  • Managers in agriculture (0821)
  • General farm workers (8431)
  • Agriculture service contractors, farm supervisors and specialized livestock workers (8252)
  • Nursery and greenhouse workers (8432)
  • Harvesting labourers (8611)
  • Managers in horticulture (0822)
  • Aquaculture and marine harvest labourers (8613)
  • Contractors and supervisors, landscaping, grounds maintenance and horticulture services (8255)
  • Transport truck drivers (7511)
  • Managers in aquaculture (0823)

The agriculture industry is very sensitive to weather conditions, fluctuations in global demand and commodity prices, as well as economic activity in food processing and food services. At the national level, the industry grew steadily over the period 2009-2018, but not without setbacks. Health and safety concerns led to trade restrictions and regulations from the United States, China and the European Union, which challenged Canadian producers, particularly cattle and hog farmers. While the protectionist measures restrained output growth over the past ten years, the industry benefitted from solid global demand, particularly for plant-based protein products and canola in recent years. On the supply side, innovations in biotechnology (such as the synthesis of biopesticides and genetic modification) increased crop yields, while investments in advanced automation reduced production costs. The resulting pace of growth in the industry’s real GDP averaged 2.5% annually over the period 2009-2018. However, as key aspects of farming, such as seeding, crop surveillance and ecosystem management, were increasingly automated, employment in agriculture declined steadily during the same period, down by 1.7% annually. As a result, productivity gains accounted for all the growth in output over the past decade. Population growth, greater international competition and limited arable land have pushed the industry to prioritize efficiency. Farmers are increasingly employing drones to monitor crops, automated systems for pest management, and data-intensive applications for optimal seeding and fertilization. The acceleration of automatization over the past several years has made agriculture one of the fastest growing industries in Canada in terms of productivity, which rose at an annual rate of 4.2% from 2009 to 2018.

The outlook for the Canadian agriculture industry is generally favourable for the period 2019-2028, supported by rising global per capita income, greater trade liberalization with the European Union and Asia-Pacific economies, and federally backed initiatives aimed at boosting exports. Growing incomes and greater urbanization in emerging countries present promising growth opportunities, while the signing of the Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) provides more stability to the trade outlook. The Government of Canada recently introduced the “Canadian Agricultural Partnership” and the “Innovation Superclusters Initiative” in order to stimulate investment in key growth-advancing domains. More specifically, the “Biomass Cluster” will help position Canada as a leader in the production of bioenergy and other bioproducts, while the “Protein Supercluster” will use plant genomics and novel processing technology to increase the value of key Canadian crops, such as canola, wheat and pulses that are coveted in high-growth foreign markets, such as China and India. It will also satisfy growing markets in North America and Europe for plant-based meat alternatives and new food products.

That said, the outlook for the industry is subject to significant uncertainty stemming from a variety of sources, including escalating trade disputes and climate change. While global food consumption grows at a fairly constant pace, agriculture prices are extremely volatile due to supply-side uncertainty (from unpredictable crop conditions and fluctuations in input prices) and demand-side uncertainty (from evolving trade relationships and exchange rate movements). Modest population growth in Canada, an aging demography and stable food consumption are also restraining growth in domestic demand, although the legalization of cannabis across the country represents a positive development. Cannabis output growth hit a stellar 27% in 2018, raising the industry’s value’s worth to nearly 15% of Canada’s entire agriculture industry. Nonetheless, foreign markets will be the strongest source of demand for Canadian agriculture and agri-food products. Overall, real GDP growth in the industry is projected to average 2.4% annually over the period 2019-2028, a pace similar to the previous ten years. Higher international market integration will continue to put pressure on Canadian farmers to be cost-effective through innovative technologies such as biometric sensors, self-learning milking machines and driverless tractors. However, since much of the mechanization process and adoption of output-enhancing technologies have taken place over the past decade, productivity growth is not expected to be as robust over the projection period. As a result, employment in the industry is projected to keep declining over the 2019-2028 horizon, but at a slower pace than the previous ten years, down by 0.3% annually. Difficulties to attract domestic workers due to the seasonal nature of the industry, its rural location, low wages and long hours have also resulted in greater utilization of foreign temporary workers in agriculture.

Real GDP and Employment Growth Rates in Agriculture

Figure showing the annual average growth rates of real GDP and employment over the periods 2009-2018 and 2019-2028 for the industry of agriculture. The data is shown on the table following this figure

Sources: Statistics Canada (historical) and ESDC 2019 COPS industrial projections.

Text Version of Figure Real GDP and Employment Growth Rates in Agriculture (%, annual average)
  Real GDP Employment
2009-2018 2.5 -1.7
2019-2028 2.4 -0.3

Sources: Statistics Canada (historical) and ESDC 2019 COPS industrial projections.

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