Seasonal Workers key to Ontario Farming

Mar 28, 2024

By Jean-Paul McDonald

As the growing season takes root across Ontario, fruit and vegetable producers are already laying the groundwork for a successful harvest. A key part of their preparation is addressing the perennial challenge of securing enough labour to manage the intensive demands of planting, tending, and harvesting crops.   

This challenge is met with a solution that has a rich history and critical impact on Canada's food supply: the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP). Established over 50 years ago, SAWP has become an essential component in Ontario agriculture, acting as a bridge between local labour shortages and the need for a reliable workforce.   

This year, about 18,000 seasonal workers from countries including Mexico, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Eastern Caribbean are expected to join Ontario's farms.  Their arrival is not just a boon for the approximately 1,100 farms that will benefit from their labour but also for Canadian families who enjoy fresh, local produce as a result.  

The reliance on SAWP highlights a broader issue within the agricultural sector: a significant shortage of domestic workers. This gap in the workforce is not just a logistical problem for farmers; it represents a substantial economic loss, estimated at around $1.5 billion annually. This shortfall affects not only individual farms but also Canada's competitive standing in the global market. 

Ken Forth, president of F.A.R.M.S. (not affiliated with this website), is at the forefront of this issue, advocating for the importance of SAWP in ensuring the resilience and success of Ontario's agricultural sector.  In a time when food security and sustainable local production are more crucial than ever, the program's role in supporting farmers is invaluable. 

Through programs like SAWP, Ontario's agricultural community continues to thrive, providing essential resources for both local communities and the broader Canadian population.

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