Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs

SACPA discusses challenges facing Albertan agriculture amid pandemic

Last Thursday, Lynn Jacobson - the president of the Alberta Federation of Agriculture – had an in-depth discussion with the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs. Among the topics were – of course - the COVID-19 pandemic and the problems it has created in the agriculture sector, including a labor shortage.

“Areas of agriculture that basically rely on temporary foreign workers and labor for their farms, that’s another issue, and that has had an effect on some of our industries,” Jacobson said, adding that the issue has a costly impact that has hit the Canadian economy in a big way. quoted Jacobson as saying: “The latest statistics we’ve seen come out, say because of labor shortages in agriculture, we’ve probably lost about $2.8 billion in sales and economic activity because of that temporary foreign worker or labor shortage.”

Paul De Jonge, the owner of Broxburn Vegetables and Café, said Canadian producers dealing with time-sensitive crops like fresh produce are seeing big impacts related to COVID-19. “Last year, there was a large asparagus grower in Ontario. And asparagus, if you don’t pick them daily, then you have a big problem. So a $6-million crop went to waste.”

De Jonge added he accesses summer staff through the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program. Last year, his staff was delayed arriving because of unknown travel rules, so this year, he planned in advance.

“We knew that potentially with COVID(-19) there’s some issues,” he said. “There is not that many planes flying and all of that, so we asked them to come earlier.”

De Jonge said each worker is tested for the novel coronavirus before they come to Canada and also once they arrive. They must all then quarantine for 14 days. He said keeping his staff healthy and customers safe is key to having a successful year.

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