SACPA discusses challenges facing Alberta agriculture sector amid COVID-19 pandemic

WATCH ABOVE: The Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs is focusing on challenges facing the agriculture sectors in the pandemic. As Quinn Campbell explains, a key issue is the struggle to secure temporary foreign workers and seasonal workers due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Lynn Jacobson is the president of the Alberta Federation of Agriculture. He spent Thursday morning talking all things agriculture with the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic has created some ups and downs in the agriculture sector, including a labour shortage.

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“Areas of agriculture that basically rely on temporary foreign workers and labour for their farms, that’s another issue, and that has had an effect on some of our industries,” Jacobson said.

He said the issue has a costly impact that has hit the Canadian economy in a big way.

“The latest statistics we’ve seen come out, say because of labour shortages in agriculture, we’ve probably lost about $2.8 billion in sales and economic activity activity because of that temporary foreign worker or labour shortage,” Jacobson said.

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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,” he said. “He usually gets 300 workers from Mexico — or at least from the southern regions — and 150 had COVID(-19), so everything was shut down.

“And asparagus, if you don’t pick them daily, then you have a big problem. So a $6-million crop went to waste.”

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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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