By Connor Lynch
When the Canadian government announced on March 16 that the border was closing to non-Americans amid the coronavirus outbreak, it was bad news for many farmers.
Temporary foreign workers have been the backbone of the veggie and horticultural sectors in Ontario for years, and losing access to them entirely would be disastrous. Some 20,000 migrant workers come to Ontario every year to work on farms, mostly from Mexico, Jamaica and the Caribbean. The federal government ultimately decided it would allow the workers in, but require them to isolate for 14 days.
But with flights grounded, they still have to get here. Foreign Agricultural Resources Management Services president Ken Forth said the organization was chartering flights to Jamaica to get workers in, with farmers paying out of pocket. The first flight was to arrive the night of April 1 at Toronto’s Pearson airport.
The 14-day delay to start work was unquestionably going to cause the industry grief, he said, with farmers having to pay employees with no work getting done. Forth said however that: “I would encourage farmers to do exactly what’s asked, follow all the rules. Rules are made for everybody.”
Norfolk vegetable grower Michael Pasztor was putting the shade up for his ginseng crop last month, work migrant workers would normally do. “It was probably the hardest work I’ve done since high school.”
With the status of migrant workers in limbo, he figured he’d better get his crop covered. Ginseng grows for as long as four years before it’s fit for harvest and it can be ruined in a single season.
Pasztor has three workers that come in from Mexico, though not under the seasonal ag workers program. As of April 3, he hadn’t heard anything from them yet. His county put in even tighter restrictions for migrant workers as well, he said, including limiting the number of people that can be in isolation in one building to three. “Housing is hard to come by in a normal year, let alone with this.”
Some farms that mostly sell to the food terminal might not even put in a crop this year, he said, since that food would normally end up in restaurants.
Asparagus farmers, among the earliest to get started, are just going to make do with whoever shows up, he said. Some farms are hiring high school students who would normally be in class.
Farmers pay for charter flights to get foreign workers
By Connor Lynch