Disappointing Ontario asparagus crop likely due to worker barriers
ELGIN COUNTY, ONT. -- Seventy per cent of the asparagus grown in Ontario comes for Norfolk County, where migrant worker rules even stricter than those from the provincial and federal governments are raising obstacles.
“Norfolk County has decreed that it would be three people per bunkhouse during the isolation period. So regardless of the fact that you have a bunkhouse for for, or for 50, you are only allowed to have three guys in there,” says Bernie Solymar, executive director of the Asparagus Farmers of Ontario.
“Before they even arrive, all the farmers had to write isolation plans on how they were going to isolate, how they were going to social distance, etc.”
That plan had to be submitted to the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit and be approved before proceeding with procuring the services of migrant workers.
Solymar says the delays, and extra red tape, will be catastrophic for the industry.
“Norfolk County has 70 per cent of the asparagus that is grown in Ontario, and we are looking at probably harvesting about 50 per cent of that. I even have one grower that’s decided not to even apply, and not to even cut asparagus this year.”
In Oxford County, an hour to the west, Mike Chromczak is also preparing for the harvest. His workers have arrived and currently are in isolation.
“When the workers arrive they self-isolate for 14 days, they are on the farm. We have supplies, food for them. They have no contact with anyone from the public.”
Chromczak’s main concern is if one of his workers contracts the virus it will shut the entire operation down - and - if there is no supply chain to process his crop. Neither of those are covered under crop insurance.
“If we end up losing our workers halfway or if we can’t sell our crop, we’re looking for the provincial government, Ministry of Agriculture to say that they have our back.”