Quebec’s biggest agricultural group warns it will not be able to plant and harvest local fruits and vegetables this summer if the country’s border is closed to foreign workers due to the novel coronavirus.
The Union des Producteurs Agricoles, which represents roughly 42,000 Quebec farmers and all forestry producers, urged the Canadian government to take steps to allow seasonal farm workers into the country.
“This is an issue of food security,” UPA President Marcel Groleau told reporters Wednesday. “There is no panic at the moment. I want to reassure people, don’t worry. There is nothing critical. But there are decisions that need to be made now to ensure the continuity of our production and the presence of our products in supermarkets.”
This year, Quebec will need 16,000 temporary farm hands to work 43,000 hectares of land, the UPA said. Most of those workers come from Mexico, Guatemala and other Latin American countries.
On Monday, Canada announced it was closing the border to non-citizens in a bid to stop the spread of COVID-19 with the exception of permanent residents and Americans among a few other exemptions. On Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump said Canada and the United States agreed to close the border between the two countries to all but non-essential traffic while trade and commerce would continue.
Canada’s decision has the effect of closing the door on the farm workers Quebec needs, the UPA said. Several other provinces in Canada, notably Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia, also depend heavily on foreign seasonal workers for crop production.
A statement from the federal agriculture department released late Tuesday, in collaboration with three other ministries, said talks are underway to try to find a solution.
“We fully understand the importance of a stable labour force enabling Canadian food supply, and are committed to giving Canadians and businesses the support they need,” Canada’s government said in a statement released by four departments. A joint emergency response committee consisting of key agricultural and food processing stakeholders and government officials has been set up to deal with issues arising from the COVID-19 outbreak, the statement said.
Marie-Claude Bibeau, Canada’s agriculture minister, said in a separate statement that the continued movement of agri-food products and inputs, both at home and abroad, and the ongoing delivery of essential food-delivery services, are essential to Canada’s plan to manage COVID-19.
“I want to reassure Canadians that we have a high-performing and resilient food system. Our priority is keeping Canadians healthy, and that includes keeping food accessible for all,” the minister said.
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