2,000 Quebecers are working at farms to fill labour gap, but season remains unstable
MONTREAL -- It’s been a season full of extreme ups and downs for Quebec farmers, and they’re not nearly done yet.
Two weeks ago, many of the province’s farmers were worried they wouldn’t have enough seasonal workers to produce their crops as usual.
The Mexican government has even announced it will ban its citizens from traveling to Canada as migrant workers. Two young farm hands died recently of COVID-19 in Ontario, and Mexico said Canada needed to be able to guarantee workers’ safety.
Quebec now says the labour problem has been resolved, at least in this province.
“This decision by the Mexican authorities is pertaining to a limited number of farms and employers” in Quebec, says André Lamontagne, the province’s agriculture minister.
Many of the workers are already on the ground: Quebec farmers say they have about 80 per cent of their usual number of staff.
Two thousand Quebecers have also answered the call to go try and work on the land, say the farmers, helping fill in the rest of the need.
But the rest of the season remains unpredictable anyway, including for grocery-shoppers.
Economists have predicted a three to five per cent increase in the cost of produce, but others think there are far too many factors at play to know what will happen, for consumers or for the farmers' economic success.
“Fruits and vegetables are very different from the rest of the grocery store,” says Sophie Perreault of the Quebec Association of Fruit and Vegetable Distributors.
Produce prices depend on four factors, she said: supply and demand, the exchange rate, transportation costs, and the everpresent uncertainty for farmers—weather.
Among all the other sources of instability right now, it’s the weather that’s turning out to be one of the biggest problems, she said.
Farmers had a very late spring, and the coming heat wave is going to cause more problems than a worker shortage, said Perreault.
"There was a lack of rain, and we’re forecasting in the next few days a lot of sun, a lot of heat, so there's going to be an influence,” she said.
What this all means for consumers, too, is hard to say. Growers are being encouraged to supply the Quebec market first. But they can also export down south—and the confluence of factors elsewhere could lead to better prices for the crops outside of Quebec. Only time will tell.