Nova Scotia·Video

Nova Scotia farmers anxiously await arrival of temporary foreign workers

Nearly 300 temporary foreign workers from Jamaica will land Wednesday night at Halifax Stanfield International Airport and then head to farms throughout the province for 14 days of self-isolation.

'That is the workforce that gets the bulk of the work done on our farm,' says farmer Philip Keddy

Nearly 300 temporary foreign workers from Jamaica will land Wednesday night at Halifax Stanfield International Airport and then head to farms throughout the province for 14 days of self-isolation. 1:56

Nearly 300 temporary foreign workers from Jamaica will land Wednesday night at Halifax Stanfield International Airport and then head to farms throughout the province for 14 days of self-isolation.

At Charles Keddy Farms in Lakeville, N.S., a small crew of local workers was harvesting dormant strawberry plants on Wednesday. It's one of the many jobs normally done every year by temporary foreign workers.

"Normally, we would have offshore labour working with us today, we would have about twice the amount of people to try to get the plants out before they start to grow," said farmer Philip Keddy. "It's a time-sensitive operation."

The federal government announced $50 million on Monday to help farmers and fish processors who are bringing in temporary foreign workers during the COVID-19 crisis. The money will go toward helping defray the costs of the mandatory 14-day self-isolation period the workers must undergo once they arrive in Canada.

Temporary foreign workers play a pivotal role in the survival of Keddy's farm.

Canada's agricultural sector relies on about 60,000 temporary foreign workers annually. (Emilie Richard/Radio-Canada)

"We would be out of business if we didn't have access to these offshore worker programs," he said. "That is the workforce that gets the bulk of the work done on our farm."

The 15 Jamaicans coming to the Keddy farm will quarantine at four bunkhouses the farm uses to house their temporary foreign workers. Keddy said five other workers were held up because of paperwork issues on Jamaica's end.

Other farmers are anxious to get their workers back, but there are still a lot of variables in play they don't normally have to worry about.

"There's a lot of mixed emotions about moving forward and how we are going to do it," said Josh Oulton, the co-owner of TapRoot Farms in Port Williams, N.S.

"We need to stay six feet apart. What kind of policies do we need to put in place? Do the workers who are in one house have to stay together? [There are] different things to think about."

Oulton said he's already looking forward to April 29, the day his 12 temporary foreign workers can get to work.

Optimism for a good crop

The delay in getting the workers is another setback for farmers who have had a tough couple of years, which included a frost in June 2018 and Hurricane Dorian last September.

So far this season, the weather is co-operating.

"It looks like an early spring and we're already two weeks behind," said Keddy.

Both Keddy and Oulton say they'll be taking several vehicles to the airport. That will allow the workers to drive back on their own so they can self-isolate right away.

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