There is plenty of concern across the agriculture sector during this time of crisis, especially when it comes to labour shortages. In order to keep the supply chain open, we need access to workers that are trained to do the job.
Plenty of packing plants are facing weeks’ worth of closures, while some are facing days. Every single day counts. But are we doing enough for the industry?
Minister of Ontario Agriculture, Food, And Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), Ernie Hardeman, says that although keeping the food supply-chain working to capacity is a close second, the number one priority is the health and safety of Ontario people.
“The first voice we have to listen to when we have everything to do is to make sure that we get the best medical advice from the health authorities,” he says. “The second thing, of course, is to make sure we keep the food chain running. Each place would have a protocol as to what they do when they find challenges on their floor, and hopefully, reduce the amount of time required to deal with the problem But even a greater problem is to ensure we have people to operate everything. It’s one thing to say that agriculture is an essential service, but we have to have people doing that.”
In order to do that, the province is working with people and companies to ensure everything stays running. Hardeman says he has been in correspondence with the province of Alberta, as well as Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, about implementing a program like Alberta’s that allow inspectors in provincial plants to be trained as inspectors for federal plants, for example.
“Absenteeism is a challenge, and we want to make sure we do everything to show our appreciation for the people that do come to work every day. Front-line workers in these essential services, that we need to be there. We want to make sure we are appreciating what they are doing,” he says. “Some of these essential people will get sick, and we have to make sure we have properly trained people to be able to replace them.”
Getting temporary foreign workers into the country is very important to keep the supply chain operating. But as Hardeman notes, it’s just as important they are following the proper protocols to ensure everyone stays healthy.
In the processing and provincial plants, Hardeman says they have a program in place to make sure they can train more inspectors, “so when one inspector can’t do it, we have another one ready for the job.”
Check out the full conversation between RealAgriculture founder Shaun Haney and Minister Hardeman, below: