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Coronavirus: Okanagan orchardists, growers facing uncertain future with temporary border closure

A B.C. Fruit Growers Association spokesperson says local growers are facing an uncertain 2020, as migrant workers can’t come into Canada because of coronavirus concerns. Global News

It’s been a cool start to spring in the Okanagan, but it’s still a critical time for agriculture in the valley.

However, news this week that Canada’s border has been closed to non-essential travelers because of coronavirus concerns is causing big concerns among area growers.

“We have a travel ban of foreign workers right now,” said Glen Lucas, general manager of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association, “and our workers from Mexico and the Caribbean cannot come in [to Canada].”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Uncertainty over temporary foreign workers worries Atlantic farmers

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Agriculture in the Okanagan depends on around 7,500 migrant workers, the majority of which are from Mexico and Jamaica.

Seasonal workers are an important labour link in the food chain, so a proposal was submitted on Thursday to allow migrant workers into the country.

Lucas told Global News that “upon arrival, they would need to segregate and get on the buses to the farms. And then on the farms, we’re set up to isolate for two weeks.”

One former orchardist, though, says that’s not a good idea, citing substandard testing protocols in Mexico and Jamaica.

“I would like to see a moratorium on this program for at least this year,” said former orchardist Robert Hogue.

Click to play video: 'Canada-U.S. border closing Friday night' Canada-U.S. border closing Friday night
Canada-U.S. border closing Friday night – Mar 20, 2020

When asked who growers should employ, Hogue “homegrown labour for homegrown food.”

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He continued, saying “with this many people out of work, there is no longer going to be a labour shortage. And I’m sure many people aren’t just going to be willing to sit at home.”

Lucas, meanwhile, says growers are facing an uncertain future.

“Every agricultural  association in Canada, this is their No. 1 priority right now,” said Lucas. “It’s a 10.”

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau says irregular migrants will be turned away at Canada-U.S. border' Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau says irregular migrants will be turned away at Canada-U.S. border
Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau says irregular migrants will be turned away at Canada-U.S. border – Mar 20, 2020

Kelowna councillor Mohini Singh has always been a strong supporter of Okanagan agriculture, but she has a serious message for the valley’s farmers and orchardists should they be able to eventually bring migrant workers into the community.

“Our growers have to adhere to every guideline, every rule very, very strictly,” said Singh. “There is no margin for error because this is a matter of public safety.”

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