P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture hopes for smoother 2021 now that members are familiar with COVID protocols

·3 min read

The annual general meeting of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture looked a bit different this year.

Instead of coming together in a room to discuss the issues facing the farming community on the Island, members logged on.

And that was a big topic of discussion this year — the COVID-19 pandemic, and how it has impacted Islanders.

Every speaker made mention of the pandemic, and the impact it had on Island farms.

'Couldn't get workers'

One of the challenges faced by farmers on P.E.I. was whether they would have enough, or any, workers in order to harvest. As farmers here were getting ready to plant, the pandemic was ramping up.

"In a lot of the cases, you know, you need, say, five people to plant, but you need 15 people to harvest … if you're planning to plant 50 acres of something, do I plant 50 acres of something or do I plant five acres or 10 acres?," said Ron Maynard, president of the federation.

"Some friends of mine that have asparagus, and they couldn't get workers in the spring. So they plowed down, you know, 20, 25 acres of asparagus for substantial losses."

I think we're set up better this year than we were last year. — Ron Maynard, P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture

The issue was the availability of workers through the federal temporary foreign worker program, and if they would be able to come to the country.

"There was some concern about whether they were coming in or not. You know, they had been arranged. And so it was a matter of, I think, of logistics, of getting them here," said Maynard.

Ready for 2021

But, with 2020 in the rearview, a year of experience under their belt and COVID still around, Maynard said he thinks the federation is better equipped to handle the challenges of the pandemic.

Travis Kingdon/CBC
Travis Kingdon/CBC

"I think we're set up better this year than we were last year," he said.

"We know that testing is required now and we know that isolation and hopefully that the vaccination program will be in place also. So, you know, less uncertainty, we hope, this year with the temporary foreign worker program," said Maynard.

Maynard said members are still making modifications on their farms to abide by the public health restrictions. Things like increasing the facilities available in workers' housing to allow for more physical distancing.

Negative COVID-19 test required

The other thing that workers will need this year is a negative COVID-19 test before getting on a plane to Canada. That test needs to be done three days, or 72 hours, before their flight.

That's something the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, is hoping to change to a period of 96-120 hours, said a representative from the organization in an email.

"This would give much-needed flexibility for workers with extended domestic travel time in their home countries, as well as countries struggling to turn around test results in 72 hours," the spokesperson said.

"This would provide a more reliable method of meeting our public health objectives while facilitating the arrival of workers into Canada."

Back here on P.E.I., the federation said so long as the rules are clear and consistent they will be followed to make sure that Islanders and workers stay safe in the upcoming season.

The federation also discussed its priorities for 2021. Focusing on water usage and irrigation, electricity usage on farms and the Lands Protection Act are other areas of focus for this year.

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