The firm must cope with the absence of foreign workers

Les fermes doivent composer avec l'absence des travailleurs étrangers

The owners of a farm south of Montreal, Mélina Plant and François d’aoust in the company of the student in the visual arts, Florence Lachapelle, who will work for them this summer.

April 26, 2020 7: 50

Updated at 23h43

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The firm must cope with the absence of foreign workers

Giuseppe Valiante

The canadian Press

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MONTREAL — due to the pandemic of the COVID-19, which is rampant on a global scale, the number of farms in quebec will be unable to rely on foreign seasonal workers to help this summer.

Because of the pandemic of the COVID-19, which is rampant on a global scale, the number of farms in quebec will be unable to rely on foreign seasonal workers to help this summer.

Mélina Plant and her husband François D’aoust, owners of a farm of five hectares to the south of Montreal, committed year after year the same four guatemalan workers. Ms. Plant is calculated that they are two times more productive than a Québécois.

But this year, these agricultural workers are stuck at home because of travel restrictions imposed by their countries in order to limit the spread of the COVID-19.

These four men are part of the approximately 5000 temporary workers, which, according to the Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA), will not come to Quebec. Their absence leaves Mrs. Plant, Mr. D’aoust and many other farmers before a difficult choice: reduce their production or to hire Quebecers inexperienced, but eager to work because of unemployment that plagues the country.

To counteract this lack of foreign labour, the government of québec announced on April 17, a program of $ 45 million to encourage people to go to work on the farm. They will then receive a weekly salary of $ 100 higher than normal. To date, approximately 2800 Quebec have responded to the call of prime minister François Legault.

We still don’t know if there will be enough of Quebecers are able and willing to do the work. And those who do, will they remain if the economy is re-launched and that their old job is available again?

Ms. Plant stated bluntly: the urban quebecers are not farmers reliable.

“This is our experience. This is why we have turned to the foreign workforce. We estimate that it will take two workers in quebec and a half to replace a guatemalan worker”, she said during a telephone interview.

The program developed by the government of quebec pays the minimum wage plus a supplement of $ 100 per week. It does, however, require candidates to be available for work for at least 25 hours per week.

The president of the Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA), Marcel Groleau believes that this schedule is insufficient.

“The farms need a minimum of 40 hours per week per employee to replace the foreign workforce,” he said.

“We estimate that it will take two workers in quebec and a half to replace a guatemalan worker ”


Mélina Plant, owner of a farm of five hectares to the south of Montreal

If the canadian border remains open for seasonal agricultural workers, many of them are struggling to get permits to leave their countries of origin. “The pandemic has made us realize how much we rely on foreign labour, but it is difficult to attract a local workforce in the fields for many years,” said Groleau.

One of these candidates who have responded to the call of the fields, Florence Lachapelle, hoping to be hired.

She had already agreed to work the farm of Mrs. Plant to help replace guatemalan farm workers before that Quebec does not announce its program. The student of montreal for 19 years in the visual arts, met with Ms. Plante and Mr. D’aoust by an acquaintance of the family.

Already involved in the environmental movement at her school, Ms. Lachapelle says that she did not know how to spend his energy over the course of the pandemic.

“The key to the fight against climate change by the agricultural self-sufficiency, and the fact of knowing how to work the land in a respectful manner, she believes. I really want to learn how it works.”

Concentration of agriculture

If people like Ms. Lachapelle can help to fill a gap in the food supply chain is no shortage of weak links during this pandemic.

According to Groleau, the COVID-19 has highlighted the problems related to the concentration of agriculture, particularly in the processing sector.

“There are fewer processing plants. Those who remain are becoming larger and larger. When there is a problem in one of them, this creates serious repercussions on the rest of the supply chain.”

For example, the closure of a single meat packing plant in Alberta, last week, has forced Canada to reduce its exports of beef to meet the domestic demand. The plant, operated by Cargill saw 484 of its workers to be infected with the virus. We lamented death.

“We don’t expect, at this stage, the shortage of beef”, said the prime minister Justin Trudeau, this week. It has, however, put the Canadians on guard against a possible price increase.

Food shortages in the fall?

Ms. Plant says expect, like other farmers, to food shortages during the autumn. She and her husband have already estimated that they will have to reduce their production by one-third this year.

The vice-president of the Ordre des agronomes du Québec, Pascal Thériault, said that he hoped that this crisis will force the Canadians to rethink their relationship with food.

“We have worked to produce food at the lowest cost possible, and that was all that mattered,” he argued. But over the years, the international supply chains controlled by a handful of large players that have contributed to deter Canadians from the food that they eat.

“The crisis we will raise awareness of the importance of eating more locally,” added Mr. Thériault. It’s not that we didn’t before, but now, we pay really attention.”

Buying local products can mean a grocery bill higher for canadian consumers used to seeing tablets crowded in imported products less expensive due to a workforce that is less expensive and regulations less stringent.

Canadians devote about 10 % of their budget to food — one of the lowest percentages in the world, ahead of Mr. Thériault. Therefore, it is possible to pay a little more to buy local products, but not much more.

Florence Lachapelle began on Thursday his new job. She lived in a caravan on the farm of his bosses. She will be in isolation for two weeks to ensure it is not infected by the virus. It will start a strenuous work in the fields where it will have to continue to abide by the rules of social distancing.

“I work very hard, and professes it. I am 19 years old, and I think I’m ready, physically and mentally. I know that it’s going to be a challenge. But I think it will be super fun!”

Le Soleil

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