While farm workers arriving in BC are exempt from new federal quarantine requirements until March 14, many growers remain concern about their access to labour during the 2021 growing season.
A poll of approximately 100 cherry growers who attended the annual general meeting of the BC Cherry Association last week indicated that concern is particularly high among fruit growers.
Approximately 95% of meeting participants are worried about access to labour this year, following challenges sourcing labour in 2020.
Several challenges last year remain in place at this point, with additional difficulties possible. While the government efforts have focused on participants in the agricultural stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker and Seasonal Agricultural Worker programs, international guest workers will be absent so long as travel restrictions remain in place.
In addition, the potential for a widespread reopening of businesses as vaccination against COVID-19 expands means there could be fewer domestic workers available to hire.
There is also the concern of new COVID-19 variants throwing a wrench into recovery plans, further complicating hiring.
A shortage in domestic workers already results in $216 million worth of lost sales to growers, according to the latest estimate from the Canadian Agriculture Human Resource Council
According to the poll of cherry growers, 36% left fruit in the field last year due to labour issues and remain worried about finding labour in 2021. A further 59% of growers were able to get the help required last year, are concerned about their ability to do so in 2021.
Just 5% of growers are confident that new strategies they’ve adopted for the 2021 season will help them avoid the challenges of 2020.
With files from Myrna Stark Leader