By Dan Rankin
Building off a recent series of agriculturally-themed trips to the International Plowing Match near Harriston and Rannoch’s Kie Farms, South Perth Centennial School’s Grade 7 and 8 students were paid a visit by a member of the Four County Labour Market Planning Board Wednesday afternoon so they could learn more about the realities of modern agriculture.
“We visit a lot of high schools, and do a lot of Co-Op and careers classes all around the four counties,” said Sarah Pelton, a project coordinator with the Four County Labour Market Planning Board, which serves Bruce, Grey, Huron and Perth Counties.
Wednesday marked the first time she had conducted an educational session for elementary school students. It’s an indication of the growing need for young workers in the province’s agriculture industry, and another facet of Perth County’s ongoing mission to attract and retain young people.
“One of the things we really want to do is explain why agriculture is interesting; that there are opportunities,” Pelton said. “A lot of these kids are growing up on the farm and living in rural areas. We want to reinforce the message that there are opportunities.”
Pelton led the students through an interactive game on the classroom’s smart board, asking a series of multiple choice questions on farming in Ontario which the kids could respond to using iPads.
Some of the topics covered included how, between 1991 and 2011, the average age of farmers in Ontario increased from 48 to 54. By 2022, a third of jobs in the ag sector will go unfilled because of a shortage of applicants, and according to a planning board survey, last year 52 percent of ag employers were already having a hard time filling positions.
“We are going to need younger people coming into agriculture because we see a trend where farmers are starting to get older,” Pelton told the students assembled in Mrs. McGregor’s classroom. “We’re going to need new people coming into agriculture to take over farms as these people start to retire.”
She also informed the kids of the many different agriculturally-focused post-secondary programs available at schools around the province.
“One of the myths about agriculture often, is that it’s unskilled,” she said. “People think that you maybe don’t need advanced education or certain skills to work in agriculture. But, what we actually see, particularly with younger farmers, is that most of them have some form of post-secondary education.”
According to figures compiled by the planning board, 60 percent of younger farmers have at least some post-secondary education. “This is a pretty high number compared to some other sectors,” she said. “There are lots of really interesting programs related to agriculture available at the college level.”
Pelton finished the session by having the students look around on AgCareers.com/careerprofiles to find out about the broad range of jobs available to them in agriculture.
“The ag sector is growing and looking for people,” she said. “There will be opportunities in the future, and jobs for them if they want to stay in or come back to Perth County.”