Agriculture minister says help is on the way for BC farmers

Agriculture minister says help is on the way for BC farmers
WatchForeign workers have played a pivotal role on farms in BC for many years. Their skill sets are hard to replace. But as COVID-19 continues to complicate their arrivals here in BC, local farmers are now worried their production could be down, in a time when it will be counted on most.

It’s one of the most crucial times of the year for farms across Vancouver Island.

It’s time to plant the dozens of different crops that will eventually end up on store shelves.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has created uncertainty around the arrival of the temporary foreign workers who play a pivotal role in both planting and harvesting.

“They’re very vital on this farm.” said the owner of Michell’s Farm, Terry Michell.

Michell brings in around 20 temporary foreign workers every year to help with the roughly 450 acres of vegetables on his Saanich farm. Usually by this time, at least half of them are already working, but as of now, no one has arrived.

“We’re worried quite a bit. We’re planting for, hopefully, that it turns around and we get our workers because we know the demand for Island product or BC product is going to be very high this year,” Michell said

Farmers across B.C. employ roughly 10,000 temporary foreign workers each year. But right now many are either undergoing the mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival to Canada or have yet to leave their home countries. The B.C. minister of agriculture says she knows it’s a stressful time for farmers, but says the safety of British Colombians can’t be compromised.

“It’s really important that we have a protocol in place and partnerships with other countries that are following a similar protocol before we accept plane loads of people into our province to help us,” Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham said.

Dan Ponchet, owner of Dan’s Farm in Saanicton, has depended on workers from Mexico for over a decade. Without them, he’ll be in trouble.

“The stress part of it all is a little bit difficult on us. We’re constantly wondering should we plant more or not and how it’s all going to play out,” said Ponchet

But at least some help appears to be on the way. Last week three planes carrying workers from Mexico landed in B.C., and more are set to arrive over the next week.

“It’s more complicated this year, but we’ve certainly gotten past the point of where we thought it could be a disaster. We do have a lot of hope now,” Popham said.

Ben NesbitBen Nesbit

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