Okanagan orchardists desperate for pickers says BCFGA
A shortage of workers to pick and sort fruit in the Okanagan and work in the orchards during the current cherry season and the upcoming apple season is prompting a call from the B.C. Fruit Growers' Association for more pickers.
And it's not alone.
The local fruit growers co-op is also placing radio advertisements looking for workers as well.
According to the BCFGA general manager Glen Lucas, an estimated 3,000 workers are needed for the annual cherry harvest, which typically runs from July 15 to August 15. Another 1,500 are needed for packing.
Lucas said while about half the number needed for picking typically come from other countries, such as Mexico and several Caribbean nations, the program that the fruit growing industry uses to provide farmers with help needs more B.C. and Canadian pickers.
Unlike the foreign worker program for the mining industry in B.C. that recently hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons because of how foreign workers were treated, both Lucas and BCFGA president Fred Steele said the foreign worker program for orchardists is different and has far more checks and balances.
Unlike the other program, the farmers' version not only includes the employer and foreign employee, it also includes the Canadian government and the government of the worker's home country.
According to Steele, the program has worked well but he would like to see more jobs for Canadian workers and that is where the shortage appears to be.
When it comes to apples, the season typically starts in September, said Lucas, and an estimated 900 seasonal workers will be needed for the harvest this year. Another 400 will be needed for packing.
In both the case of cherries and apples, Lucas and Steele said it appears that while there is the work, there are not the workers available to fill all the jobs this year.
Lucas said he recently spoke to the BCFGA employee who coordinates the program that matches workers with jobs, and he toldLucas that earlier this week one farm alone placed an order for 30 workers but they are nowhere to be found.
Steele said he believes the use of foreign workers should be a "supplement" to the providing jobs for Canadians, rather than having all the work done foreign workers.
One of the reasons for the higher need this year could be that as orchards mature, the yield they produce is greater and that means the amount of fruit needed to be picked increases. That in turn requires more workers, said Lucas.
Steele said the program matching workers with local work costs the BCFGA about $15,000 per year but it is money well spent.
Meanwhile, while it is not providing the headaches that too much rain or hair would, the current heatwave is having an effect on local orchard operations. But the effect is more on the farmer than the fruit they produce.
Lucas said with soaring temperatures, more breaks need to be taken by workers thus shrinking the time window each day to get all the fruit off the tries.
Trying to do more in less time can be difficult, he said, especially when you do not have a full complement of pickers. But local farmers seem to be making it work.