Growers across the country are still short of temporary foreign labour at a critical time of the season. Ontario and Atlantic Canada have received 78 per cent of workers compared to workers requested, according to Brian Gilroy, president of the Canadian Horticultural Council (CHC). British Columbia and Quebec are faring worse with only 54 per cent and 50 per cent of needs respectively as of April 30.
Those figures were presented to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food by virtual conference on May 15. The problems stem from delays in paperwork from Mexico and the fact that eastern Caribbean countries such as Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago are still in lockdown due to the COVID-19 virus.
Other leaders such as Ron Lemaire, president of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, explained that the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) of $2,000 per month up to four months is a disincentive for locals to work on farms. Due to a shortage of labour, some growers are deciding to grow only half of their normal volumes.
“This will affect early crops and food supply,” said Lemaire.
MP Francis Drouin (Glengarry-Prescott-Russell) questioned to what extent growers could automate. Lemaire responded, “We can’t automate everything. In the greenhouse sector, for example, only some can automate some procedures.”
“Food security is threatened,” said Gilroy. Current headlines are about meat packing plants pausing their operations due to COVID-19 infections, but the worry is that fruits and vegetables will be in shorter supply as the summer progresses.