-6.9 C
Monday, January 20, 2020
Connecting Our Communities

Seasonal workers already heading back to Ontario farms

Produce growers such as Martin’s Family Fruit Farm are among the biggest users of migrant labour, which is considered a crucial part of the operation given the shortage of local workers


Woolwich proposes 5% tax hike for 2020

Budget talks underway this week, Woolwich council is looking at five per cent hike in property taxes, a...

News Briefs

Woolwich nixes traffic islands Displeased with the troublesome pedestrian islands installed during the Region of Waterloo’s reconstruction of Church Street...

EDSS student wins U.S. baseball scholarship

It’s January and nowhere near Florida, but St. Jacobs’ Blake Jacklin is in a baseball frame of mind....

20-year-old agreement causes a stir

An Elmira environmentalist’s “smoking gun” appears to be shooting blanks. Al Marshall, a long-time critic of cleanup efforts at...


clear sky
-6.9 ° C
-5 °
-9 °
44 %
1 %
-7 °
-5 °
-1 °
1 °
3 °

Most often associated with harvest time – and out in larger numbers then – seasonal workers can already be found on farms throughout Ontario.

That’s certainly the case with St. Jacobs-based Martin’s Family Fruit Farm, for instance, where some 40 seasonal workers have been busy tending to the apple trees, with plenty of pruning and planting to be done ahead of the busy harvest time that ramps up at the end of August. At that point, their ranks swell to about a hundred.

Across the province, some 2,500 workers are already at work on fruit and vegetable farms under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP). By the height of the growing season, more than 17,000 workers are expected to be placed at more than 1,450 agricultural operations.

Most migrant workers come from Mexico and Jamaica, but also from some smaller Caribbean countries such as St. Lucia and the Bahamas.

Each country participating in SAWP maintains a liaison service or consular office in Ontario to help look after the general welfare of agricultural workers and help them navigate any issues or complications they may face while working here.

“Of the many different temporary worker programs in Canada, ours is the only one that offers 24-hour a day assistance to our workers directly with people from their home country through a liaison service. That is part of what make SAWP unique, and also plays a significant role in why it’s so successful,” said Ken Forth, president of Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (F.A.R.M.S.), which administers the program.

Liaison services from each participating country are open year round – their role contributes to a repeat of 80 per cent of the seasonal agricultural workers each year. The liaison service is instrumental in recruiting and selecting the best candidates for placement of successful applicants on Ontario farms, providing workers support on a wide range of issues during their term of employment, the organization reports.

“Essentially the liaison staff act as advocates for the workers and help them with anything they need 24 hours a day – whether that’s a medical emergency, help with paperwork or help with issues they may be having at home,” Forth said.

Established in 1966 in response to a critical shortage of available domestic agricultural workers, SAWP continues to serve the same role 51 years later, connecting Ontario farmers with a reliable source of supplementary seasonal labour. Because SAWP is a “Canadians first” program, supplementary seasonal workers are hired from participating countries only if agricultural operators cannot find domestic workers to fill vacancies.

It’s estimated that two jobs for Canadians are created in the agri-food industry for every seasonal agricultural worker employed through SAWP at Ontario farms.

The seasonal workers play a critical role in Ontario agriculture, says Kevin Martin, president of Martin’s Family Fruit Farm.

“It’s key for all horticulture. That’s not just an Ontario deal, but everywhere. In the U.S., they didn’t have a program like this (SAWP), so they had problems,” he said, noting the industry couldn’t operate without migrant workers.

“You’re not going to make an investment in horticulture, an orchard for instance, without this program.”

It’s not about cutting costs, he adds. In fact, labour costs increase due to the need to pay for housing and transportation on top of the wages, but farm operations simply can’t find local people to do the work.

“It’s not to save money. It’s a greater cost,” Martin said, noting seasonal workers are the only option. “There isn’t actually an alternative.”

A study released last summer by Guelph-based Agri-food Economic Systems identified SAWP as a key reason Ontario’s horticulture industry is able to generate $5.4 billion in economic activity and approximately 34,280 jobs.

The report found that chronic labour shortages continue to challenge the agricultural sector due to aging demographics, competition with other sectors and fewer numbers of young people pursuing careers in farming. As a result, demand for workers under SAWP is projected to remain steady.

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to The Observer's online community. Pseudonyms are not permitted. By submitting a comment, you accept that The Observer has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner The Observer chooses. Please note that The Observer does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our submission guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.


The new face of health promotion

There’s a new face around the Woolwich Community Health Centre. Gebre Berlihun has taken on the role of public health promoter after the retirement of 25-year employee Joy Finney in October.

In Print. Online. In Pictures. In Depth.

You obviously love community journalism. Thanks for visiting today. If you have a great local story, let us know.

Applejacks extend winning streak to three

The new year continues to be good to the Wellesley Applejacks, who picked up a pair of wins over the weekend to make...

EDCL donates $1,000 as thank-you to Floradale firefighters

Thanking the Woolwich Fire Department, Elmira District Community Living this week donated $1,000 to the Floradale station. Firefighters from Floradale...

EDSS student wins U.S. baseball scholarship

It’s January and nowhere near Florida, but St. Jacobs’ Blake Jacklin is in a baseball frame of mind. That’s not a passing fancy,...

Kings win two more to keep streak alive

The Elmira Sugar Kings extended their 2020 winning streak and their hold on the conference standings with a pair of wins over the weekend.

Choir to bring the sounds of Africa to Elmira

An Elmira church will play host to a lively performance by an internationally-acclaimed children’s choir from Uganda, Africa. The Watoto...
- Advertisement -