The Gleaner

Temporary foreign workers are vital in agriculture

Over the last decade, many of the farms in the Valley, and in the Montérégie in general, have increasingly employed temporary foreign workers (TFWs). The Temporary Foreign Worker program was launched in 1973 by the federal government with the goal of filling gaps in the workforce on a temporary basis.

Although there are workers of all kinds that come to Canada through this program, the majority come to work in agriculture. In fact, as of 2017, these workers made up just over 30 per cent of the total agricultural workers in Quebec, according to statistics Canada. These workers are predominately from the Caribbean and South America, and they come to Quebec from spring to fall to work on our farms – and they are a vital resource.

Petch Orchards in Hemmingford hires 10 to 12 TFWs every season, mostly from Mexico and Guatemala. These workers do the daily farm chores throughout the summer and then help with the harvest, before returning to their home countries at the end of the season. Although Petch Orchards does have a team of locals that work on the farm, the TFWs are still an integral part of every season. “They’re very valuable, we need them,” says Tim Petch, owner of the orchard. “They’re steady [and] they’re willing to work rain or shine.” Similar sentiments were echoed by another farmer in the region, who wishes to remain anonymous. They mention how humbling it is to see all the hard work TFWs put into their orchard, saying “Our orchard has grown a lot, and there’s no other way to harvest everything; these workers are the lifeline to getting the crops to market.”

La Ferme aux Mille Cailloux in Franklin also relies on a team of between 25 and 30 TFWs, mostly from Guatemala and Honduras. Sonia Yelle, who speaks Spanish, works at La Ferme aux Mille Cailloux as a liaison for the farm’s TFWs while they’re in Canada. As most of the workers who come over speak that language, Yelle helps with communication at the farm; she brings them to the dentist, doctor, or hospital when needed, and is generally there for them if they need anything.


Ferme aux Mille Cailloux in Franklin relies on its team of temporary foreign workers. PHOTO Sonia Yelle

“I try to be their family away from home,” she says. “They come to Quebec to work for their families… they send so much of their money to family back home.”

This is true for Estuardo Valdez Lopez, who has been working at La Ferme aux Mille Cailloux for 10 years. From Guatemala, Lopez has been working in agriculture for most of his life, both here and in his home country. “I came to Canada because I need to help my family. There are a lot of people in my country [and] the jobs are very cheap; this is better,” he says.

Most of the TFWs that come over have experience in agriculture, either in other countries’ TFW programs, or in their home countries agri-food sectors. This experience is what makes them so skilled at these jobs and such a valuable resource to farmers. Lopez also mentions that, like him, all the TFWs he’s worked with have the same goal: make money to send back home.

The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on farms has highlighted how important TFWs are for our agricultural sector. Immigration and travel delays during the 2020 season left farmers across the province without most of their work force. Even with locals stepping in to help, giving it their best until the TFWs could arrive, many farmers have said it wasn’t enough. “They’re a precious value; all the farms need them. If we don’t have them, the farms would have to be smaller,” says Yelle.

The 2021 season has been less complicated, and many TFWs were able to come here and work. They are the backbone of so many of our farms and orchards, helping feed and sustain our communities. As Petch says, “We need them, whether its picking apples or pulling weeds; any farm they’re on, we need them.”

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