Schuyler Farms, which grows asparagus, sour cherries, apples and grain crops, has been so gravely impacted by the lack of seasonal agricultural workers, that it has retained legal counsel. The Simcoe, Ontario farm is appealing the March 24, Section 22 order of the Haldimand-Norfolk medical officer of health that only three guest workers are allowed per bunkhouse during quarantine. The onerous order also slowed the arrival of workers after April 1 because the local health unit insisted on approving all isolation plans and recording names of all workers before allowing a flight to be booked.
For inexplicable reasons, Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, medical officer of health, exceeded both federal and provincial health guidance, in requiring identification cards to be carried by all farm workers identifying their name, employer, contact and date of arrival. As part of the isolation plan, employers must flag the perimeter of each bunkhouse, demarcating where workers can walk.
As of May 11, the result is that only 63 of 103 (61%) workers have been approved to arrive for apple pruning and asparagus harvest at Schuyler Farms. Apple orchards will not be pruned to plan, which will result in quality and sizing issues next fall. It also means that 72 acres of asparagus will not be harvested at an estimated loss of $864,000 gross. He’s still looking for another 45 workers on July 2 for sour cherry harvest and 57 additional workers on September 2 for apple harvest.
Other area farmers have cancelled plans to plant any cauliflower at all. Others have halved the acres of green onions and squash. Plantings of future crops of ginseng and strawberries have been shelved. At the end of 2020, the devastation will become crystal clear, compared to the Norfolk County Economic Development Board numbers (2016 census) that the region’s crops are valued at $519 million.
“While the damage has already been done with the loss of early crops, the worry is that there is no expiration date on the order,” explains Schuyler. “There’s still time to save crops and to give growers the optimism to plant. We’re looking to have the order rescinded.”
Schuyler Farms is represented by the London, Ontario office of Lerner Lawyers LLP in a hearing before the Ontario Health Services Appeal and Review Board on May 25.