Red Delicious apple harvest in Summerland, 2016. (Summerland Review)

Red Delicious apple harvest in Summerland, 2016. (Summerland Review)

COVID-19: B.C. too dependent on foreign food production workers

New B.C. job site links unemployed with farm, seafood work

Border disruptions due to the coronavirus pandemic have B.C. facing a shortfall of up to 8,000 temporary foreign workers this year, Agriculture Minister Lana Popham says.

The province has launched a new website that Popham says will provide a one-stop shop for agriculture and food production jobs. The site, www.bcagjobs.bc.ca, already has 600 positions available as B.C. agriculture moves from the pruning and planting stage toward harvest.

“COVID-19 has brought into focus for many of us our province’s food security,” Popham said May 28. “It has shone a bright light on the need for our province to become more self-sufficient, more sustainable and resilient.”

The jobs go beyond the familiar seasonal fruit picking and other harvesting jobs that urban people hear about.

“We have jobs like cherry production line worker in the Okanagan, a tractor operator in Surrey, a dairy farm worker in Black Creek, a farm manager in Creston, a farm supervisor in Quesnel, a fish processing plant worker in North Vancouver, a greenhouse worker in Delta or a berry picker in the Fraser Valley,” Popham said.

RELATED: COVID-19 outbreak at Okanagan nursery over

RELATED: Ottawa pays $50M for foreign worker quarantine

Berry crops are some of the first to ripen in B.C., and among the most labour intensive to harvest.

“B.C. berry growers are facing a serious labour shortage this season due to COVID-19, and this website is a good idea to let people know we are hiring and looking for their help,” said Parm Bains, owner of Westberry Farms, a blueberry producer in the Fraser Valley. “The berry industry urgently needs seasonal workers interested in harvesting and packing jobs. Many farms also have longer-term positions available in field and crop management and quality control.”

Farm operators on Vancouver Island and elsewhere in B.C. also noted the unintended effect of Ottawa’s broad-based and Canadian Emergency Response Benefit. They signed up students for seasonal work and then saw many decline the work once $2,000 a month in temporary benefits became available with few conditions or checks on the connection between unemployment and COVID-19.


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tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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