Okanagan farmers brace for losses as workforce banned from Canada amid COVID-19 concerns

FILE.
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The Okanagan's farmers long relied upon workers from other countries to care to bring crops to market and now COVID-19 is poised to wreak havoc on that process.

"As of midnight tonight, workers from areas other than the U.S. will be unable to enter Canada," Glen Lucas, general manager of the B.C. Fruit Growers' Association said. "The primary concern is for field crops that are seeding and transplanting vegetables. Many of these operations are expecting workers in the coming days, and will now be without a workforce."

Across Canada, there are about 60,000 workers on the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, and about 8,000 in British Columbia, with about half of those in the Okanagan. These workers prune, thin, and harvest tree fruit crops, and are essential to the operation of farms. 

"The absence of these workers would cause a major disruption in the industry, and we are working hard to avoid that disruption in the food supply," Lucas said. "Nationally, horticultural organizations are working to develop a proposal that will satisfy the isolation requirements for COVID-19, while allowing workers to travel to Canadian farms. Ideally, a solution would be reached in days."

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that starting Wednesday, all international visitors to Canada will be turned around at the airport, with the exception of Americans, diplomats and flight crews.

“We will be denying entry to Canada to people who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents,” Trudeau said.

Anyone coming back to the country needs to self isolate for 14 days.


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