The BC Fruit Growers Association has stated that this season’s lower cherry crops may have disguised the true impact of an ongoing agricultural issue in the Okanagan. General Manager Glen Lucas: “The year 2020 was very unusual for farm labour - on one hand, the pandemic temporarily halted travel and reduced the number of foreign workers coming to Canada. On the other hand, the low cherry crop in 2020 resulted in reduced farm labour demand. This mixed bag could hide the real nature of the labour shortage.”
Lucas claims that if the 2021 cherry crop is larger than normal, but it is still coupled with the same labour supply, the shortage of harvest labour will be severe in the Okanagan. While the pandemic curtailed international travel, the issues with harvest labour were more widespread with the labour supply in 2020 being down from 2019 in all areas.
Lucas told infotel.ca that Okanagan Seasonal Agriculture Worker Program number were down from about 7,500 to 4,250 from 2019 to 2020: “The Okanagan has, over the past five years, seen a growing number of young workers from other countries coming to work on farms. The pandemic essentially shut down this program.”
The number of international backpackers who work on farms in the Okanagan approximately declined from 1,500 to 500 from 2019 to 2020. The number of domestic workers, especially from Quebec, were down significantly, between 30 and 50 per cent of 2019 levels, from 1,500 to 750.
Overall decline in working on Okanagan farms was 3,250, to a level that is 57% of the normal workforce in 2019 .