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Niagara growers honour administrators of seasonal agricultural worker program


February 17, 2021
By Press Release

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Ken Forth

The two organizations that share administrative and air travel responsibilities for the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) have been honoured for their efforts in ensuring temporary foreign workers were able to work on Canadian fruit and vegetable farms this past year.

The Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Service – commonly known as F.A.R.M.S. – and CanAg Travel Services are the joint winners of the 2020 Niagara Peninsula Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (NPF&VGA) Award of Merit.

The two organizations were heavily involved in the successful national advocacy initiative that ultimately convinced the federal government to exempt temporary foreign workers from the international border closure it announced in March 2020 in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19. And once travel resumed, they managed air travel and flight availability in order to physically bring workers to Canada, as well as handling a multitude of other pandemic-related challenges.

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“F.A.R.M.S. and CanAg Travel Services have been working hard for the benefit of the Ontario agriculture sector for many years, but they really went above and beyond last year to find solutions to the many barriers presented by the pandemic and ensured that SAWP would be able to continue,” says Curtis Wiley, Chair of the NPF&VGA. “This award is in recognition of all of those years of work, but especially for everything that was done this past year to help make the program happen under such incredibly difficult circumstances.”

SAWP was launched in the 1960s to ensure fruit and vegetable farms had a steady work force; many horticulture crops must still be planted and/or harvested by hand, making reliable labour absolutely critical. Approximately 20,000 workers come to Ontario every year – with approximately 40,000 in total coming to Canada annually – through SAWP and many have been working on the same farm for several decades.

F.A.R.M.S. was formed in 1987 to manage the program’s administration. In 1992, CanAg Travel Services was formed to manage the transportation of workers to and from Canada. Both entities participate in the annual negotiations of employment terms and conditions with both the Canadian and host governments, which includes any other issues that could affect the continued success and longevity of the program.

This past year, the two organizations managed complicated transport logistics for arriving and departing workers, became a trusted source of information for growers on rapidly changing COVID-19 guidance for seasonal workers, and on behalf of growers, managed additional administration required by government for incoming workers.

On behalf of the seasonal program, F.A.R.M.S. Chair Ken Forth was actively involved in advocacy, including helping to secure federal quarantine funding support for growers, and achieving a one-month extension of SAWP work permits, and worked closely with other industry groups, like Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association to develop a strong response to the federal consultation on worker housing.

“To date, they’ve also spent countless hours speaking to media in support of SAWP and temporary foreign workers, and their efforts on behalf of both workers and fruit and vegetable growers are ongoing in 2021 as we all continue to deal with the challenges of this global pandemic,” adds Wiley.

NPF&VGA’s Award of Merit was initiated in 1957 and is presented annually to an individual or organization who has demonstrated commitment and dedication to the agricultural industry. In lieu of the traditional in-person award ceremony, NPF&VGA will be making a $500 donation to the Salvation Army, a charity selected by F.A.R.M.S. and CanAg Travel Services.

The NPF&VGA represents approximately 700 growers who are engaged in the growing and marketing of fruits and vegetables in Niagara Region and areas of the regions of Hamilton-Wentworth and Haldimand-Norfolk bounded by Highway 6 and the Grand River.