Morris Gervais operates Barrie Hill Farms in Simcoe County
By Diego Flammini
Assistant Editor, North American Content
Ontarians will pay more for locally-grown produce in grocery stores if the province’s minimum wage jumps to $15 per hour by 2019, according to one Morris Gervais, operator of Barrie Hill Farms in Simcoe County.
Food prices could go up across the board. Consumers may see the highest increases in fruits and vegetables, which rely mostly on hand-harvesting as opposed to machines, he said.
“My biggest single cost of production is hand labour and that’s going to increase by 30 per cent in about 18 months,” Gervais told Farms.com. “For many crops, it’s impossible to remove the hand labour from the equation because the robotics and machinery can’t harvest ripe crops without damaging the others.”
The Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association (OFVGA) echoed Gervais’ thoughts.
“This cost increase, for a sector that relies very heavily on manual labour, is going to further hamper Ontario’s ability to compete with food grown in other jurisdictions,” Jan VanderHout, OFVGA chair, said in a June 1 release.
If a quart of Ontario strawberries costs $4.00 now, it could cost $5.00 next year. Compared to $2.00 per quart for imported strawberries, local growers are put at a disadvantage, Gervais said.
“Consumers can support local farms at the current price difference,” he said. “But when that difference becomes too great, we wonder how many people will continue to choose Ontario.”
Conversations with other producers suggest some may reduce their acreages by nearly 25 per cent, Gervais said.
“It’s a time where horticultural farmers are not very optimistic,” he said. “We’re discouraged about the future.”
The government should develop an off-setting mechanism to help producers with the looming issue of increased food costs, Gervais said.
“Throw us a bone and give us something that will give us a competitive advantage over products from other countries.”
The farm value of Ontario fruit crops in 2016 was about $300 million, according to OMAFRA.