Thousands of seasonal agricultural workers arrive in Ontario

Migrant workers hired under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program have started to arrive from the Caribbean and Mexico to help Niagara farmers.

About 3,000 seasonal workers from Mexico and the Caribbean began arriving this month at greenhouses in Niagara, Leamington and other parts of Ontario, said Ken Forth, president of Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services, better known as FARMS.

Thousands of workers come to Niagara-on-the-Lake through the eight-month program to help plant, pick and package fruits and vegetables.

The program has operated in Ontario for 56 years and helps fill labour shortages at farms and greenhouses throughout the province.

“We wouldn’t have the horticulture industry if we didn’t have these workers,” Forth told The Lake Report.

FARMS is a federally run operation that plays an administrative role in the seasonal workers program.

Many of the workers arriving this month are doing greenhouse work. Come spring, they’ll be pruning orchards and vineyards, said Forth.

About 20,000 workers will be coming to Ontario this year, he said, a few more than prior to the pandemic.

“What we’ve seen in the last few years, some people are changing over to the (agricultural) stream,” he said.

The agricultural stream is a one- to two-year program, whereas the seasonal program is only eight months.

“Some growers need people all year-round now and so some of them are slightly reducing their (seasonal) workers and bringing back (agricultural) stream workers,” he said.

He noted this could still be the same worker. Only the length of their contract will have changed.

“This program has kept the horticulture industry in place and has also given an opportunity to the workers to find a job that pays a lot more than they can make at home,” said Forth.

Somer Slobodian, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report