The Ontario horticulture sector has been the hardest hit of agriculture sectors by COVID-19, but it has a plan in place to help reduce risk from the virus when foreign workers arrive for 2021 planting.
OMAFRA and producer groups came together to create a 35-point plan that outlines areas of responsibility and direction to help reduce spread of the virus.
Why it matters: Some of the largest outbreaks of COVID-19 in Ontario have been at horticulture and greenhouse farms.
The new strategy was announced Nov. 16 at Mastronardi Farms in Kingsville.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic farmers have been working hard to ensure the safety of essential farm workers,” said Bill George, chair of the board of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association (OFVGA).
Those efforts have meant that essential food has been able to continue to be delivered to Canadians, he says.
He says collaboration between producer groups and government need to continue in order to protect farm workers.
“We looked ahead to the 2021 growing season and we want to take what we have learned and prepare so we can do more so we can protect our agri-food workers,” said Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s minister of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs.
He says a group of government ministries including OMAFRA, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Training, Labour and Skills Development have worked together on the strategy.
“We have made good progress, but over the next several months leading to the planting and growing season we need to sustain our communications with and support to farmers and agri-food businesses to make sure they are well informed and well prepared with the best practices for workers’ safety,” said Hardeman.
He was also joined by Keith Currie of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and George Gilvesy chair of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers.
There are plans in the strategy that aim to protect workers, to address immediate pressures from COVID-19, including planning, worker arrival and daily testing. The strategy also contains recommendations to manage the disease longer term, as well as general worker health and safety practices that can reduce disease risk.
The strategy addresses several areas of challenge when it comes to managing COVID-19 and can be read at the OMAFRA website.