Recent changes to the quarantine rules for temporary foreign workers could save farmer Phil Quinn upwards of $16,000 this year.
Temporary foreign workers are now exempt from the federal government's mandatory hotel quarantine rules, meaning they can spend their 14 days in isolation at the farms where they'll work.
For farmers like Quinn, who have been footing the bill for their workers' quarantines, the exemption makes a big difference to their bottom line.
"I think it's a relief for our producers," federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau told Radio-Canada.
Despite changes to the hotel quarantine rule, the workers still need to have proof of a negative COVID-19 test within three days of their departure for Canada, and they are tested several more times upon their arrival and throughout their 14-day quarantine at the farm.
"After the experience of last year, we saw that the quarantines at farms went well," Bibeau said. "It wasn't until after the 14 days of isolation that there was any community contamination."
Quinn, like many other farmers, upgraded the accommodations he offers his workers last year so they can keep a safe distance from each other and abide by health and safety rules.
"It's quite a long list of things that we have to abide by, and we are inspected," Quinn said.
Of the eight workers from Guatemala who worked for Quinn last year, two opted to stay through the winter and avoid the risk of complications on their re-arrival this season.
The other six are expected to touch down in Quebec at the beginning of May.
Quinn — who grows fruits, vegetables, and Christmas trees — said after the uncertainty caused by relatively new travel restrictions last year, this season he's ready for anything.
"This time last year was one of those stressful times in our lives when we didn't know what was going on," he said. "It was quite stressful."
Some farmers remain concerned about possible delays in the arrival of workers because following health and safety measures can cause a bottleneck in the process.
Last year, when there were significant delays and much uncertainty, Quinn was forced to move his staff from frontline work with guests — who were no longer needed anyway — to the fields. And two previous employees who had been laid off from their construction jobs because of COVID-19 restrictions also returned to work on the farm.
"But we did a lot of the work ourselves in the field, just rolled up our sleeves and worked much longer hours," Quinn said.
Despite the challenges, he said he's "quite optimistic" he and his staff will find a "new normal" soon.
"We're going to roll with it for sure," he said. "We're not as scared of it as we were."