CK agriculture industry dodges a bullet for now

Workers harvest grapes at a farm. File photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo / gina_sanders.

The head of the Kent Federation of Agriculture (KFA) is relieved there won’t be a delay in getting temporary foreign workers in Chatham-Kent, at least not for the time being.

Chatham-Kent Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Colby said there was a meeting on Wednesday to discuss putting a hold on bringing temporary foreign workers into the municipality to avoid a rise in cases, but officials decided against it. Colby said there haven’t been any COVID-19 outbreaks at farms and greenhouses in Chatham-Kent for a long time.

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit has placed a three-week hold on allowing any more migrant workers into the region to work on area farms because of several outbreaks that have put hundreds in self-isolation.

KFA President Jay Cunningham said delaying the arrival of temporary foreign workers would have been extremely damaging for the local agriculture industry.

“I think it’s great that we were able to avert that because that’s not a good thing. I certainly have some compassion for the producers in Essex County who have to deal with it,” said Cunningham.

If a worker delay was to happen, Cunningham said greenhouses would definitely feel the pinch now while the farmers would feel it later, adding a delay in migrant workers is never good no matter when it happens.

“People are starting to bring in workers and as plants grow and get a little further along the cycle, they need more help. So, it would really dramatically impact now. The field crops not as much,” he added. “I guess it really depends on when there would be such a curtailment, but I can’t see that it’s good no matter when it happens.”

Dr. Colby said he will be monitoring the situation in Chatham-Kent and will consider the next steps at the first sign of trouble.

Cunningham said producers in Chatham-Kent are “extremely good managers” and will do everything they can to keep foreign workers safe because they know how important they are to their operations. Cunningham is asking Dr. Colby to check with the agriculture sector before he does anything.