The Ontario government and ag producer organizations are collaborating on protocols and best practices for next season
By Jackie Clark
Three Ontario ministries are collaborating with representatives from the ag industry to establish protocols to prevent negative impacts of COVID-19 on farm workers in the 2021 season. The protocols are being developed by the industry from lessons learned in 2020, Ernie Hardeman, provincial minister of agriculture, food, and rural affairs said in a Nov. 16 press conference.
“I want to commend the farmers and farm workers for their hard work navigating this difficult season and tackling challenges they never encountered before,” he said. “Our government recognizes the agri-food heroes who contributed so much to our efforts to feed the province. We want to continue to support and protect them in any way that we can.”
Government and industry leaders aim to “take what we have learned and prepare so we can do more to protect our agri-food workers,” Hardeman explained. “I’ve assembled an agri-food organization along with my ministry, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Labour, Training, and Skills Development in a great spirit of collaboration. Together, we worked on sharing information and developed a thorough, thoughtful strategy that will go a long way to prevent and control outbreaks over the next year’s growing season.”
Through this collaboration, government and industry representatives developed the Prevention, Control and Outbreak Support Strategy for COVID-19 in Ontario’s Farm Workers, which includes protocols to help ensure business continuity as well as worker safety.
“We’re proud to launch the strategy based on industry and government’s extensive experience and lessons learned over the last six months,” Hardeman added. “We have made good progress, but over the next several months leading up to the planting and growing season, we need to sustain our communications with and support of farmers and agri-food businesses to make sure they are well informed and well prepared on the best practices for worker safety.”
The strategy provides guiding principles and best practices for aspects of the industry like housing, and actions such as proactive testing.
“A lot of the housing that we have and have had for years is fine until you have a pandemic,” Hardeman explained. The plan includes a section on housing standards to prevent outbreaks or allow for isolation of sick workers to reduce risk.
“The more we can test, the sooner we can test, the smaller the outbreak will be if there is one,” he added. Enforcing these standards and actions will require good relationships and communication with the workers themselves.
“COVID has no boundaries,” Keith Currie, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, said at the press conference. “We look forward as members of agricultural production to be continuing to produce safe, sound food for all Ontarians, and that includes having a very strong work force behind us to do so.”
He thanked the government for their continued efforts in maintaining food security and leading this challenge to ensure worker safety.
Bill George, the chair of Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association and George Gilvesy, the chair of Ontario Greenhouse Growers Association signed a document committing to the collaboration.
“This isn’t just something that the government thinks should be done, this is something that the whole industry believes is the best way to protect the workers … and to protect their industry,” Hardeman said. “Our number 1 priority, of course, is to keep people healthy.… It’s in everybody’s interest to do everything we can to reduce the risk.”