Nova Scotia

N.S. farmers hire foreign workers for the harvest

It's harvest time in Nova Scotia and farmers are increasingly being forced to hire foreign workers because of a lack of locals willing to toil in the fields.
Foreign farm workers are hired to bring in the harvest in Nova Scotia. ((CBC))
It's harvest time in Nova Scotia and farmers are increasingly being forced to hire foreign workers because of a lack of Nova Scotians willing to toil in the fields.

Charles Keddy, a farmer in the Annapolis Valley, has been hiring foreign workers from Mexico, Jamaica, Barbados and the western Caribbean for years.

"Local people want to work 9 to 5, five days a week," Keddy said.

Depending on the time of year, Keddy said he has as many as 50 foreign workers employed on his farm.

Farmers are required to post the jobs and hire Canadians first, he said, but farming depends on the weather. So Keddy needs people willing to work long days when the sun shines — whether it's a Sunday or a Monday.

Michael Campbell, a father of three from Jamaica, has been coming to Nova Scotia to work for Keddy for the past eight years.

"The money is good," he said.

Campbell, 37, is trained as a mason, but said there's no steady work at home. So he travels to Coldbrook in the Annapolis Valley in April and returns home to Jamaica in December.

The money he's earned over the years has allowed him to build a nice home in Jamaica.

Annapolis Valley farmer Charles Keddy says foreign farm workers are invaluable. ((CBC))
When Keddy and his wife started farming back in the '70s, he said they looked at the foreign workers program and decided it was too expensive.

But when he had to plow under tens of thousands of dollars worth of crops because he couldn't find workers, he changed his mind.

Keddy said it's a myth that foreign workers are cheap labour. Ottawa strictly regulates foreign farm workers, their wages and other compensation.

Keddy said he must fly them in and provide housing. Despite the cost, Keddy's number of foreign workers has been increasing each year and he said they're worth the cost.

"The hand harvested horticulture industry in Nova Scotia would not exist today without offshore labour," he said.