The government of Ontario is more than tripling the financial support for the Agri-food Workplace Protection Program to help prevent further spread of COVID-19
By Jackie Clark
In light of ongoing outbreaks of COVID-19 on farming operations across Ontario, the provincial government is "committing up to $15 million to enhance health and safety measures on farms and in food processing facilities,” said a June 12 press release. This amount is more than triple previous support for this initiative from the government.
Industry officials are “doing a bit of a reconnaissance with major growers, major employers (to understand) where they see the gaps,” Keith Currie, OFA president, told Farms.com. Producers can then use government funding to fill those gaps in safety protocols.
Stringent measures have already been put in place, including quarantine, physical distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements.
“Our guys and girls have done a great job. Right from the get-go, from the quarantine situation, making sure that, wherever the accommodations are for the workers, that they have the ability to socially distance, and putting in barriers on planters and barriers in line for packing,” Currie said.
Public Health, Service Canada, and the Ministry of Labour all contributed to developing protocols and assessing the risk of COVID-19 spread and “everybody's been going over the top in following them,” he added.
However, outbreaks are still occurring on farms in the province.
“It’s not a foreign labour issue, it’s a human issue,” said Currie. “The foreign labour that have come in are probably less likely to spread anything because they live on the farm, they're isolated. But the problem is they are intermixing with domestic labour who go home at night.”
Domestic workers have many more points of contact in the community, and then return to the farm to work with foreign workers, Currie explained.
Funding from the government may help employers find weak spots in their COVID-19 protections, and purchase things like PPE, Plexiglass, and cleaning and disinfection products.
Now is also a good time for employers to test their workers for COVID-19, to see if they have the virus in their workforce, Currie said.
“It's better that they test and find the positive (cases) now and deal with it, than put it off and have a major outbreak and then have everybody isolated and nobody can work on farm. From a business standpoint, they may feel the risk of getting shut down, but it’s better to know now and get through it and be ready for harvest,” he explained.
The OFA is also working with the federal and provincial governments to help farmers who may suffer losses due to labour shortages.
“OMAFRA is very close to having those details handed down. They’re just working with industry right now to see what’s needed to make sure we have the right coverage,” Currie said.
Outdoor horticulture growers with AgriInsurance will be covered for lost production due to labour shortages.
“Unfortunately, though, it doesn't cover greenhouses. So, we're trying to figure out, with the federal government, how we can compensate greenhouses the same way,” Currie said.
JJ Gouin\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo