Multiple farm groups agree with COVID-19 prevention measures

Ontario's Agriculture Minister, Ernie Hardeman, in Kingsville on November 16, 2020. (Screenshot courtesy of Government of Ontario Announcements via YouTube)

Farmers are preparing for next growing season and with that comes a strategy to prevent COVID-19 and protect workers.

Earlier this year a Sector Leadership Group on COVID-19 was put together to come with plans to prevent the virus on farms. Several associations representing a broad spectrum of producers along with multiple government ministries were part of the group.

Details of that strategy were firmed up and an agreement was signed Monday to signify the cooperation.

The strategy is founded on three pillars related to prevention and containment: before getting on the farm; on the farm; and farm worker housing. It contains 35 actions.

But while there are some issues that can be handled by the province, some issues like housing, will have to include the federal government.

“Obviously the approvals for the housing is a federal issue but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t all be collectively looking at how we can improve the housing,” said Ernie Hardeman, the Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “And put the controls in place to prevent this from ever happening again.

COVID-19 on on farms in parts of the province this season, including Windsor-Essex, where the number of cases there led to a Migrant Farm Worker Isolation Centre.

Hardeman and farm association representatives say the health and safety of farm workers is a top priority. And that includes making sure workers have the information at hand.

“And to work with the farmers and processors to make sure they get the information out to the workers,” added Hardeman. “And again, I can’t emphasize this enough, everyone’s interest is to keep the workers safe. With safe workers we have a productive industry. With sick workers we don’t have an industry at all.”

Monday’s announcement follows up on previous actions to control outbreaks including:
-A “one stop shop” toolkit for farmers on guidance, resources and information -related to prevention, control, testing and outbreak management supports
-Proactive testing for farm workers
-$6.6 million in funding to support on-farm health and safety measures through the Agri-food Workplace Protection program
-$25.5 million in funding over three years to help minimize COVID-19 exposure risks in the workplace and support the province’s food supply chain through the -Agri-food Prevention and Control Innovation Program
-Supporting initiatives to sustain Ontario’s agri-food supply chain and helping to
ensure it is responsive to challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as weather and market fluctuations
-Proactive inspections to farming operations
-Improving data sharing between Ontario and its partners to better understand the spread of COVID-19 in affected communities

At this time, Hardeman says he hasn’t personally been in contact with any migrant worker advocacy groups and there are no concrete numbers on how many inspections would be carried out with the initiatives in place.

Hardeman did state that the number of inspections this year had been dramatically increasing but no specific number was provided.

The Sector Leadership Group on COVID-19 is composed of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association, Ontario Apple Growers, Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, Grape Growers of Ontario, Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers, Ontario Tender Fruit Growers, Holland Marsh Growers, Flowers Canada Ontario, Food and Beverage Ontario, Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development, Ministry of the Solicitor General and Infrastructure Ontario.