Concern among Quebec produce growers

Less fruit and vegetables from Quebec in the stalls this summer. This is a scenario envisioned by several actors in the agricultural industry who fear that the spread of COVID-19 will prevent seasonal foreign workers from arriving in the country.

Earlier this week, Federal Minister of Agriculture Marie-Claude Bibeau suggested that the epidemic could make it difficult for seasonal workers to arrive.

"It would be dramatic," said Francis Blouin, a strawberry and raspberry producer on the Orleans Island, spontaneously. "I don't know how I would organize myself. It is a manual harvest. "

On his farm this year, out of some 50 employees, 35 are arriving directly from Guatemala. What would be the consequences if they did not come to work in his fields? "No strawberries, no raspberries, no blueberries," he replied bluntly.

Mr. Blouin, whose fruits are found in more than 25 points of sale in the Quebec region, is so worried that he was about to buy, when he received the call from La Presse on Wednesday, plane tickets for employees to land as early as next week. However, in reality, he does not need their services until the end of April. The producer wants to ensure that workers are on Quebec soil if the government decides to limit their access.

No announcements have been made yet.

Guy Pouliot of the Onésime Pouliot farm, also on the Orleans Island, says that his entire season will be compromised if he cannot benefit from the services of foreign labor. In principle, some 200 workers from elsewhere are expected in his fields, forming 90% of his team. "We don't do a season in half," he says. I harvest from the plant I plant in May. Mr. Pouliot annually produces 1,200,000 kg of strawberries.

In total this year, 16,000 foreign workers are expected on Quebec farms, according to the Foundation of companies recruiting foreign agricultural labor (FERME). Each year in the province, the number of farm workers from elsewhere increases by 10%. Most are from Mexico and Guatemala. They usually arrive between April and June.

"We are worried. It would be disastrous for employers because the workers who are starting to arrive [devote themselves] to planting in the fields. "

- Fernando Borja, director general of the Foundation for businesses recruiting foreign agricultural workers (FERME)

Borja also attended Wednesday, like many industry players, the Canadian Horticultural Council's annual meeting in Ottawa. The Minister of Agriculture, also present, took the opportunity to express her concern on the matter.

"We are aware that COVID-19 could have an impact on the availability of human resources, including temporary foreign workers, on whom many of our agricultural businesses depend," said Minister Bibeau in an email sent to La Presse.

"Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Employment and Social Development Canada are working directly with the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and other agricultural stakeholders on this issue. "

Industry hit hard

In addition, if this threat materializes, it would risk weakening the production of strawberries and raspberries in Quebec, says Francis Blouin. "We've already had three difficult years because of the increase in the minimum wage," he recalls. If we don't have our workers, it may be the fatal blow for many of us. "

"You have to plant at a certain point, you have to start the crop and if you don't have workers to do that, nothing happens. "

- Jennifer Crawford, Executive Director of the Association of Quebec Strawberry and Raspberry Producers

"We cannot cultivate without this workforce, that is obvious," adds Eric Van Winden, vice-president of the Association of Quebec Market Gardeners (APMQ).

"We don't want it to go there." Without these workers, the vegetable sector does not produce. "

Quebec has about 1,500 market gardeners.

Source: La Presse

Back to news list