Orchards plead for workers as they are forced to abandon crops

Orchards plead for workers

Cherry and apple farms are desperate for workers in the Okanagan and Creston, so much so that farmers have no choice but to abandon crops.

Worker shortages are the result of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on international travel and travel options within Canada.

The BC Ministry of Agriculture along with the tree fruit industry are now asking local workers for help in harvesting, to reduce food waste.

In an effort to connect local workers and farms, a new web portal called the 'Farm, Fish and Food Job Connector' has been launched by the Ministry of Agriculture. This portal has proven successful in the Fraser Valley.

“We want to ensure that Okanagan workers and farmers are making use of the Farm Fish and Food Job Locator,” says Agriculture Minister Lana Popham. “Local food is so important to food security and increased use of the portal will help growers get the crop harvested in this year of COVID-19 challenges.”

Cherry producers have reported that as a result of the labour shortages, they are running out of time to harvest a variety of cherries. For example, the harvest of one type of cherry will stop when the next variety begins to ripen, despite the first variety crop remaining unharvested in the first place.

By August, late season cherry types are harvested in the Okanagan, Similkamee and Creston Valleys. Sunrise apple varieties start harvest next week in the South Okanagan and later in August in the North Okanagan. Late season apples including Gala, Ambrosia, McIntosh and Spartan are harvested between September and November.

Tree fruit harvest is paid by piece-rate such as per bin or per pound. Minimum rates are established to give workers with good hand-eye coordination and physical capabilities the ability to achieve an income significantly higher than minimum wage. 

“The harvest work is physical and rewarding,” says Pinder Dhaliwal, president of the BCFGA. “Practically, the work requires the ability to go up and down ladders and to lift weights of up to 30 pounds. Harvest work often starts early in the day to avoid the intense heat of the day."

And new this year, COVID-19 safety training is required.

“A first step in retaining local workers is that the workers recognize before starting, the physical nature of the
work,” says Glen Lucas, general manager of the BC Fruit Growers Association. “BCFGA staff can provide on-farm orientation to fruit harvesters before the work starts - this is proven to increase worker retention. Our BCFGA staff also provide information to ensure workers are aware of and following COVID-19 safety protocols.”

Those interested can contact the BCFGA labour manager Rob Forrest at 778-363-3620 to find jobs.

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