N.S. farmers yield healthy harvest, but are there enough workers to bring in the crop?
Farmers in Nova Scotia say nearly perfect growing conditions have produced bumper crops of fruit and vegetables this summer, but a shortage of workers could lead to some of those crops staying in the fields.
Michael Gardiner’s farm sits on close to 55 hectares (135 acres) in Wolfville, N.S.
About 20 of those acres are dedicated to apples. After what Gardiner calls a nearly perfect growing season the branches on his apples trees are sagging under the weight of a bumper crop.
“Just weather-wise, we had rain when we needed it so irrigation was very little, so it turned out really really well with nice, big sized fruit,” says Gardiner.
The agriculture industry is worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the province, but the president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture says getting the harvest to market has been an ongoing struggle.
“Labour has been an ongoing issue for years, and this year, and not just because of COVID-19,” said Tim Marsh.
Marsh says close to 1,600 temporary foreign workers came to Nova Scotia to work in the fields this year, but the labour shortage is a result of a lack of local people willing to do the work.
“It can be extremely intensive manual labour, but it’s still the best way to harvest, and a lot of people just don’t want to do that anymore,” says Marsh.
Grape grower Sharon Mulvagh has already harvested close to 50 tonnes of fruit, and there is still more on the vines.
Mulvagh says finding workers hasn’t been an issue, but she considers herself lucky.
We also had a core group, maybe about half of our pickers who have been with us before in previous years, and it takes probably a crew of probably 10 to 11 plus my husband, myself and our vineyard manager to really get about five tons in a day, which is generally what we aim for,” says Mulvagh.
While Mulvagh is confident she’ll be able to harvest her full crop, Tim Marsh says not all farmers will be so lucky, and that having to leave product in the field will be devastating.