Ag industry trying to cope with labour shortage
Brandon Sun, The, Oct 8, 2010 | by Cosgrove, Colleen
The seemingly never-ending parade of jobs offered in southwestern Manitoba's oil industry is leaving long-established businesses in the dust, looking for employees.
Pipestone Livestock Sales has operated in the region for 25 years, and although it regularly closes for the summer season, this is the first time in its history that it won't be reopening for fall sales.
Owner operator Gene Parks says although lucrative jobs in the oil patch are a contributing factor, he says a labour shortage across the region is to blame. At this point, Parks says he's unsure if reopening will be an option.
"It's not just affecting the agriculture industry. Drive down any street in any town in (Westman) and you'll see help wanted signs; or look in the paper, there are businesses looking for help everywhere," he said.
At its peak, Pipestone Livestock Sales employed 40-plus part-time employees, but this year, a crew of eight part-timers were struggling to keep up with a workload for at least 20.
Closing the auction mart then was strictly a business decision, Parks said, adding that the business continues to move cattle in Whitewood, Sask., and Brandon. Nearby options also remain in Melita and Virden.
"It's a sign of the times," he said. "Businesses have to adapt to change. If you want to keep up, you've got to roll with the punches."
On the flipside, Heartland Livestock Services in Brandon just hired an additional 10 part-time employees to help with the fall busy season, manager Keith Cleaver told the Sun.
The indefinite closure at Pipestone, however, will mean only a slight increase in customers for the Brandon location, he says.
"It's always sad to see a business forced to make those tough decisions," he said. "We'll see a few new customers because of this, but the reality is a lot of the older guys are getting out of the (cattle industry) entirely."
Meanwhile, cattle producers nationwide are being pinched on all sides.
When Parks first entered the business, he says it was typical to see 25 large-scale operations in one municipality, whereas now, one or two is more likely.
"Young people aren't staying in the rural areas as much anymore, and with all of the hassle cattle producers have been going through since BSE ... a lot are deciding to just get out," he said.
A weak economic recovery, uncertain markets, lingering effects from BSE and stringent export regulations have contributed to a decline in the national cattle inventory. As of July 1, Statistics Canada reports the national inventory is down 4.9 per cent to 14 million head.
Comparatively, the decline in 2010 marks a 17 per cent drop from the national 2005 peak of 16.88 million head. All provinces are reported to have contributed to the decline, with Manitoba down 5.6 per cent and Saskatchewan and Alberta inventories down 6.3 and 5.6 per cent, respectively.
Copyright The Brandon Sun Oct 8, 2010
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