National Newswatch

Access to seasonal workers should be speeded upl

Ottawa—Labour shortages and financial support programs are crucial issues for many Canadian farms trying to meet growing global food demands, says Charles Stevens, Chair of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA).

The most useful support for them would be streamlining government inspections of farms and establishing financial protection for fresh fruit and vegetable farmers to match what U.S. growers have, he told the Commons agriculture committee.

OFVGA wants quick passage of the Financial Protection for Fruit and Vegetable Growers Act to match the support available to American farmers when buyers go bankrupt.

Other helpful measures would be implementing a grocery code of conduct, refunding tariffs on Russian fertilizer and protecting farms from anti-competitive practices by large retailers, “which are stretching family farms to the limit,” he said.

The government should also increase funding to Agriculture Canada’s Pest Management Centre to develop new crop protection technology for the fruit and vegetable industry. Without the Centre, “we’re going down the tube. It’s very important.”

At the rate farm land is being converted to other uses, there will be no agriculture left in Ontario in 100 years, Stevens said. “We need better land use policies to save the No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 agriculture lands, which a farmer can make a living on. The five, six, and seven, which he cannot make a living on, maybe that’s where we need to put the houses.”

The Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council says that in 2021 labour shortages cost Canadian farms $2.9 billion in lost sales. Meanwhile studies of Ontario farm safety net programs show 95 per cent of farms would be negatively impacted without them.

Government should make a priority of the Seasonal Agriculture Workers Program, which is important to the fruit and vegetable sector. “If we lose this or if it gets tweaked badly, we’re out of business.”

It used to take a month to get seasonal workers approved through Service Canada, he said. “Now it’s six months. We have to organize for six months to get it through Service Canada. It is not getting its job done in time for us to get the job done.”

Despite all the criticism of the seasonal workers program, Stevens said, “Almost all farmers treat their workers as well as their local workers or they’d be out of business. I have a man who’s been with me for 34 years. They are vital. We would not have a horticulture industry in Canada without this labour.”

He also urged that government inspections be streamlined. “They are complicated and drawn out, especially the temporary worker program integrity audits. There were 11 audits on my farm last year. When I started, there were none. It doesn’t help the farmer when he’s under stress and harvesting his crop to have somebody come in and audit. At the end of the day, there has nothing wrong, and it just overburdens them.”

More than 75 per cent of fresh vegetables and 80 per cent of the fresh fruit sold in Canada are imported. Still Canada exported $2 billion in fresh vegetables and $3 billion in frozen fruits and vegetables in 2021.

Click here for more political news headlines