The Canadian ag sector welcomed more than 61,000 temporary workers in 2021
By Diego Flammini
As Canadian weather gets colder, some of the country’s unsung heroes are returning home.
Canadian farms employ about 60,000 seasonal agricultural workers each year. In 2021 that number was 61,735, Statistics Canada reported.
These workers are an integral part of multiple sectors within the Canadian ag industry, said Ken Forth, a vegetable farmer from Hamilton, Ont., and president of Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services, an organization which helps farms bring in seasonal workers.
“There would be virtually no horticulture industry in Ontario if it wasn’t for these workers,” he told Farms.com from Mexico City where he’s doing organizational work. “They plant the crops, they care for the crops, they harvest the crops and package them. There’s no job these workers don’t do.”
Ontario farms employ the most seasonal workers.
In 2021, close to 27,000 seasonal ag workers contributed on farms across the province.
Most of the workers employed in 2022 have returned home with the remaining ones scheduled to fly back to Mexico and the Caribbean over the next few weeks.
And the relationships go far beyond between an employer and employee, Forth said.
“They become part of our family,” he said. “I had a guy who worked for me for 35 years, but I hadn’t seen him in four years because he retired. I went to see him in Jamaica, he’s got a very nice house and four kids who are all doing very well for themselves. He said everything he had was built by (our farm). I told him all I did was provide an opportunity, he put in the hard work.”
Seasonal ag workers come to Canada through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), which has been in place since 1966 to fill domestic gaps in ag labour.
Forth would put SAWP up against any other similar program. And that’s something consumers should understand, he said.
“It’s one of the best programs in the world because we actually care about these people who are leaving their families for months at a time,” he said. “They’re covered by every law and regulation a Canadian is, and more because they’re also covered by refugee legislation.”
Other farmers have expressed their gratitude to seasonal ag workers as well.
Karl Samuda, Jamaica’s minister of labour and social security, received such comments on a recent visit to Canada.
“Everyone I spoke to, the message was simply, ‘we don’t know what we would do without the Jamaican workers, and I would extend that to the [other] Caribbean people who are engaged in the programme, because they said to me in a declarative fashion, ‘without these workers we could not survive’.
“That made me very proud as a Jamaican, as a member of the Government of Jamaica and as a Caribbean person. It made me feel a sense of great pride,” he said on Nov. 17, Jamaican media reported.