Fields Forward’s understanding of the need for the Seasonal Agriculture Program (SAWP) and Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs)

Fields Forward is dedicated to supporting local jobs and the Creston agriculture community which is, like many industries, facing a new world of challenges amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.  

With travel bans and regulations in effect to decrease the spread of the virus, the Seasonal Agriculture Program (SAWP) and Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) have come under scrutiny. As a result, while some sectors have seen wide-spread layoffs, the agriculture industry is facing a major labour shortage. Because of this, as an agricultural community, farmers in the Creston Valley have been scrambling to meet production requirements. 

Fields Forward Coordinator Elizabeth Quinn spoke with several farmers in Creston about their labour needs and views on SAWP.  

“I hope to hire seven skilled SAWP to plant, till, and harvest my 30-acre market garden,” said Frank Wloka, owner of Wloka Farm and Fruit Stand in Erickson. “They’re skilled, fast, and work long hours.” Wloka also plans to hire an additional 40 locals to tend the orchard, market garden, and fruit stand. Without the skilled foreign workers, he would not plant his market garden, which would mean hiring even fewer locals, he said. 

Raj Dhaliwal, co-owner of H &R Orchard Ltd, a 160-acre cherry orchard in Canyon, is also counting on SAWP. “I’m starting the season but not sure what’s going to happen,” he said. He hopes to hire 40 foreign workers, 60 locals, and 140 pickers from across Canada. Many producers are in a wait and see mode.

To provide relief, the provincial government has now put regulations in place for incoming agricultural foreign workers to ensure our communities are able to support the agriculture sector while still minimizing the health risk to communities. 

In a Facebook post, BC Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham wrote: 

“All TFWs arriving in British Columbia for seasonal farm work will be required to self-isolate in government-managed accommodations for 14 days prior to being transported to farms throughout B.C. during the COVID-19 pandemic. The accommodation will be in the Lower Mainland near the airport and will not be at the farm workplace. The Province is also providing access to socio-economic and cultural supports for workers while they self-isolate…Following 14 days of self-isolation, if no symptoms develop (or once the employee is fully recovered if symptoms do develop), workers will be safely transported to their farm.”

Understandably, some people have questioned why these agricultural positions cannot solely be filled by Canadians or people in the Creston Valley who find themselves unemployed because of the crisis. While this is something we could eventually work towards, the reality is there are thousands of seasonal farmworker positions every year but not enough locals or Canadians are skilled in farming to fill them, so many positions remain vacant with subsequent losses in farm revenue.

There are still positions that Canadians can apply for but, if we want to fully shift away from the use of highly skilled TFWs to help us grow our food, an extensive apprenticeship program would need to be established. Until this type of program is in place, SAWP is a necessity to ensure our communities, farmers, and greenhouse growers can keep up with food production.  

Read more about the regulations here.

These are new waters for everyone to navigate and we are extremely grateful for our local farmers and food producers here in Creston–and the rest of the country. They are a crucial part of holding our communities together and keeping us fed. 

We encourage you to share this message and spread some knowledge surrounding SAWP and its role in Canadian agriculture. We’re all in this together.