Vancouver Island farms grapple with shortage of temporary foreign workers
VICTORIA -- The agricultural industry in Canada relies heavily on temporary foreign workers but during the pandemic, travel is limited and social distancing measures are in place. This make housing those workers a real challenge, including on Vancouver Island.
“We have over 50 acres and over five-million bulbs planted in our fields,” said Nora Cummings, the sales and office manager for Longview Farms in Central Saanich.
While the farm has five-million daffodil bulbs available, there's a problem. There aren't enough people to pick them.
“Last year we had 24 workers come in from Mexico,” said Cummings. “This year we have 11.”
Housing those workers during the pandemic is one of the main issues. Longview Farms has accommodations for up to 24 workers under normal circumstances. Under COVID-19 distancing restrictions, however, it only has space for 11.
“It’s a wonderful country,” said Isreal Camarl. “The people are so friendly, I like this country.”
Camarl is from a small town about an hour-and-a-half outside of Mexico City. He’s one of those 11 workers that have come here for the picking season.
“In my country I make a $120 per week,” said Camal.
But not all workers come from outside of the country.
“Usually, everyday I make around $200 or $250 (here),” said Lauren Stark.
Stark is from Errington. She’s one of the 20 domestic pickers on the farm today.
“I love piece work,” said Stark. “I just love being in control of how much money I can make and it’s kind of like being your own boss which is nice.”
But, the reliance on foreign workers is shared across the island.
“They’re not just workers, they’re farmers,” said Nicole Verhagen who is with Mitchell’s Farm.
Over at Mitchell’s Farm, they are expecting 24 workers to come here from Mexico soon. The work permits have been granted, now it’s a matter of transportation.
“We’re basically just waiting on flight confirmation,” said Verhagen. “I know that they’re having to charter flights in for temporary foreign workers right now because there are no commercial flights available.”
“I see that being a bit of a challenge but we have our fingers crossed that that will be ok,” she said.
Mitchell’s Farm has locals working in the fields but they would be extremely shorthanded if foreign workers can’t get the flights they need to get here.
Back at Longview Farms, Cummings is optimistic they can make it through the picking season.
“The turn-out from the local community has been great and we hope to see a few more of them in the next couple of weeks,” she said.
If you want to try your hand at daffodil picking, you can call Longview Farm’s daffodil line at 250-652-1311.