Producer pitches journeyman farmer idea

Could farm workers be certified like electricians or plumbers?

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Glacier FarmMedia – It seems appropriate to have a “light bulb” moment while talking to an electrician.

That’s exactly what happened to Kristjan Hebert last summer when a couple of electricians were working at his farm near Moosomin, Sask.

Hebert was quizzing the electricians about their profession and what it’s like being a journeyman electrician. That’s when the light bulb switched on.

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He realized agriculture needs journeyman farmers — men and women with the specialized skills and knowledge to work on modern farms.

“I don’t know about anyone else… but I need journeyman farmers. I need people who get it done,” said Hebert, the managing partner of Hebert Grain Ventures, a 22,000-acre farm with about 10 employees.

Hebert is still refining his idea, but the basic concept is a certification program for people who want to work on farms. Like an electrician or plumber, the worker would take training, become an apprentice on a farm and after enough hours on the job, be certified as a journeyman farmer.

“It (agriculture) is the biggest industry in our whole country,” Hebert said, while speaking at Manitoba Ag Days in Brandon. “What if we had a plan like that, of education and co-op time, for people who wanted to work on farms…? If you look at the technology and the sizes of the businesses we have now, I think we could pull it off.”

For Hebert, this is more than idle talk at the coffee shop.

He collaborates with three other farmers and they want to make this happen.

“Our peer group, we ranked it as the number one thing we want to work on in 2020… getting a pilot project of a farm journeyman,” he said. “We’re just in the process, between the four of us, of hiring someone full time to focus on it because we believe in it that much.”

To this point, Hebert and his peers have spoken with representatives of a few community colleges and others about the concept.

Larger farms and mid-sized farms across Canada could use such a program because there is a severe labour shortage in production agriculture. Job vacancy rates are 5.4 per cent in agriculture, nearly double the national average of 2.9 per cent, says a report from the Canadian Agricultural Human Resources Council.

“Farmers… reported $2.9 billion in lost sales because of unfulfilled vacancies — an increase from $1.5 billion in 2014,” CAHRC said.

Johanne Ross, executive director of Agriculture in the Classroom Canada, praised Hebert for his idea and initiative, but she believes the ag industry needs to focus on basic labour challenges, such as getting young people to think about the opportunities in agriculture.

“They’re not even curious about ag… They think, ‘I can’t go into ag because I don’t own a farm.’

After 20 years with Agriculture in the Classroom, Ross understands that the education system is difficult to change. She tried to get agriculture included in the core curriculum of Canadian schools, with little success.

“What (Kristjan) was saying, I actually love. But it would take quite a bit of lobbying to get it done.”

This article was originally published at The Western Producer.

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