Ontario’s fruits and vegetable farms are labour intensive and highly dependent on seasonal agricultural workers. COVID-19 has interrupted regular flows of worker travel and has resulted in some gaps in labour availability. COVID-19 outbreaks at a few large horticulture businesses has put further pressure on labour availability.
The labour shortage could mean some crops go unharvested, resulting in wasted food and a financial loss for the agri-food industry.
The federal government made a commitment in early May to work with the provinces and territories to explore possibilities for expanding the AgriInsurance program to include labour shortages as an eligible risk for the horticulture sector. This work with provincial and territorial partners would insure against lost production due to an insufficient workforce, should producers be unable to find enough labour to harvest.
Ontario is the first province to announce changes to its insurance programs to include labour shortage as a cause for crop loss, made possible through working with the federal government’s AgriInsurance program.
Ontario farmers already enrolled in an eligible production insurance plan who suffer from crop losses due to labour disruptions during the 2020 growing season will have access to further insurance coverage through Agricorp. The added insurance coverage will include:
- Inability to attract sufficient on-farm labour due to COVID-19; and
- Illness or quarantine of on-farm labour and the producer due to COVID-19.
Farmers will be expected to notify Agricorp as soon as possible if they experience COVID-19 related labour disruptions that are having an impact on their crops.
“This announcement is an important first step towards giving growers assurances that this government will have their backs during the pandemic,” says Bill George, chair of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association (OFVGA). “We thank Minister (Marie-Claude) Bibeau for making this enhanced coverage possible, and we thank Minister (Ernie) Hardeman and the Ford government for their leadership, and for being the first provincial government in Canada to take this step.”
The OFVGA says that this new coverage is the first of its kind in Canada, and was developed and rolled out at a speed and urgency that is highly unusual for new safety net measures. “This was only possible by using an existing program like crop insurance with its yield data and underwriting/adjustment processes. OFVGA recognizes the importance of applying the lessons learned from this unprecedented new coverage, to extend it to the rest of the edible horticulture sector,” the organization says in a press release.