A study by the Brandon-based applied research and consulting company Westarc Group has highlighted the challenges facing Canadian farmers as they try and position their farms for the future.

The 'rural adaptation needs assessment' surveyed around 60 producers in the Manitoba region and found that the predominant difficulty was the existence of a skilled labour shortage, as many could not afford to provide the high wages or the year-round job security necessary to attract and keep skilled workers. 

Farmers also stressed the need for specialists to advise on diversification and value-added ventures, as they often lack the knowledge themselves. Such knowledge may include ways to diversify into new types of crops or livestock, or the marketing skills to promote a new venture.

Other concerns for producers include the current lack of health care, education and good highways in many rural areas. Such communities also need increased technology such as high-speed Internet access and cellular service. Many producers also highlighted the need for counselling and peer support as the sector declines.

Lead researcher Carl Cunningham plans to have completed a report on the study by the end of the year, with a view to providing the information to government rural and agri-policy developers.