Wel­come back to our sea­sonal farm labour­ers

The Woolwich Observer - - VENTURE - OWEN ROBERTS


THE short­age of farm labour is a re­cent de­vel­op­ment, and blame it on young peo­ple who don’t want to do hard work. But it’s hardly new. As far back as the early 1960s, the farm sec­tor rec­og­nized it was run­ning out of sea­sonal labour. By the middle of that decade, it was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a se­vere short­age.

So in 1966, the For­eign Agri­cul­tural Re­search Man­age­ment Ser­vices, which has the con­ve­nient and en­vi­able acro­nym FARMS, was es­tab­lished.

It ad­min­is­ters some­thing called the Sea­sonal Agri­cul­tural Worker Pro­gram.

FARMS con­nects for­mally with Ja­maica, Bar­ba­dos, Mex­ico, Trinidad and Tobago and the East­ern Caribbean to bring work­ers to Canada. Sup­ple­men­tary sea­sonal farm labour is hired from part­ner coun­tries only if farm­ers can’t find do­mes­tic work­ers will­ing to take the same jobs. And usu­ally, they can’t. The pro­gram has been a suc­cess. With plant­ing sea­son ap­proach­ing in On­tario, and sea­sonal farm work­ers – 18,000 of them in this province alone – are start-

ing to ar­rive. About 85 per cent of them are re­turnees from pre­vi­ous years.

And eco­nom­i­cally, it’s no won­der they want to re­turn, even though it means be­ing apart from their fam­i­lies for sev­eral months. Sea­sonal work­ers can earn as much as 10 times or more work­ing here than they could in their own coun­tries, if in­deed they can find work there.

Sea­sonal work­ers’ con­tri­bu­tions are im­mense. They pro­vide so much sup­port for labour-in­ten­sive farm pro­duc­tion, crops that need hands-on care, par­tic­u­larly fruit and veg­eta­bles. About 1,450 farms will em­ploy these sea­sonal work­ers this year.

In fact, labour mar­ket re­search by the Cana­dian Agri­cul­tural Hu­man Re­source Coun­cil said the pro­gram is the key rea­son the hor­ti­cul­tural in­dus­try is thriv­ing.

“If we want to con­tinue hav­ing ac­cess to high-qual­ity, fresh, lo­cal pro­duce in On­tario, we need the Sea­sonal Agri­cul­tural Worker Pro­gram to con­tinue con­nect­ing farm­ers with the work­ers they need,” says FARMS pres­i­dent Ken Forth.

On farms across the province, pro­duc­ers are chomp­ing at the bit to get onto their fields. The temp­ta­tion is huge when the weather starts get­ting warm.

But they’ll have to sit on their hands for a while longer.

Dale Cowan, a se­nior agron­o­mist at the AGRIS and Wanstead Coops, urges farm­ers to wait for the soil to warm, then plant as soon as pos­si­ble if the fore­cast is favourable.

“A lot of peo­ple are wor­ried that be­cause of the cold weather we’re now on sched­ule for late plant­ing, but tech­ni­cally, we’re not late,” he says. “We’ve had no us­able heat, and the soil tem­per­a­ture is too low yet for plant­ing, so although the weather has been cold, we’re not late.”

Farm­ers know a warm seedbed is needed for corn and soy­beans. They’re called base 10 crops, mean­ing they need soil tem­per­a­tures of at least 10 de­grees C and ris­ing for best ger­mi­na­tion.

If soil cools off af­ter seed is sown, ger­mi­na­tion slows and dis­ease and in­sects can wreak havoc on de­vel­op­ment.

That’s what hap­pened last year. Many pro­duc­ers got off to a quick start thanks to a warm spell in early May. But then the weather cooled and turned nasty for weeks, mean­ing corn didn’t ger­mi­nate prop­erly. Some had to be re­planted in late May, and gains that could have been re­al­ized from early seed­ing were lost.

The im­me­di­ate fore­cast for On­tario is im­prov­ing. But as of late last week the soil tem­per­a­ture was only six de­grees C.

So let’s hope for wind and warm tem­per­a­tures to dry out fields, and wel­come the sea­sonal work­ers who’ll be help­ing grow our food.


River­side PS stu­dents Levi and Jude Adams were out last week to help raise money for their school. The fundraiser was run in co­op­er­a­tion with the Elmira Cir­cle K store and gas sta­tion.

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