One of the largest lettuce producers in Quebec was forced to destroy his lettuce field with a tractor because his dozens of foreign workers are not there to harvest.
“We are forced to bury a full field of lettuce because we are lacking a good twenty Mexican workers and a dozen are in quarantine. We have to destroy everything with our tractors, ”sighs Clermont Riendeau, president of the Potager Riendeau, in Saint-Rémi, in Montérégie.
In Quebec, barely 65% of the expected foreign workers have arrived, according to the Foundation for companies recruiting foreign agricultural labor, also called FERME Québec.
“More than 75% of Guatemalans (4,800) arrived in Quebec, but on the Mexican side, this figure melts at 57% (3,533),” said its general manager Fernando Borja.
“There are delays that we are constantly trying to resolve. We are aware of this, ”acknowledged at Journal Ambassador Alejandro Estivill Castro, Consul General of Mexico in Montreal.
According to the diplomat, these delays are explained because the Canadian consulate in Mexico City and the Mexican authorities are severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a result, farmers like Clermont Riendeau de Saint-Rémi have to sacrifice some of their fields for lack of labor.
“If we had our people, we could do our weeding, but we don’t have enough arms, so we have to put an end to more than half a million dollars from the harvest,” said the man who asked his 40 Guatemalan workers arrived here to look after his other lettuce fields and onions.
To make matters worse, the price of lettuce is falling, adds the farmer. The fund has lost nearly six dollars since the start of the crisis, he observed.
Worse still, explains Clermont Riendeau, not only is he missing a good 20 Mexican workers, but he has to pay part of the salty bill of more than $ 60,000 for those who are quarantined in hotel rooms he rented in Montreal.
This year, his thirty workers who will be in quarantine will have cost him a good $ 37,800 in hotel expenses and $ 25,580 in wages, some of which is paid by the Government of Quebec.
At Agro Quebec, we are worried about farmers like Clermont.
“It is extremely worrying. Not to mention the heat wave. Watering is complex, it is not simple. People think it is enough to turn on the taps. This is not how it works. We need workers, ”said its president, André Michaud.
Lack of manpower
“It is clear that there is a shortage of labor because all the temporary workers from Mexico and Guatemala could not go to Quebec,” acknowledges the director general of the Union des producteurs. Agricoles (UPA), Charles-Félix Ross.
At the same time, the top union leader invites farmers to call on local workers to come and give them a boost.
“There are 2,000 Quebecers eligible for our program. We have a bank of thousands of applicants, so we invite producers to use this workforce, ”he insisted.
Lack of availability
When we ask Clermont Riendeau why farmers like him do not seem to call on Quebec labor, he retorts that he is waiting for that.
“If there were any available, I would take them tomorrow morning, but there aren’t any.” I have a few to three days a week, but there aren’t any, ”said the farmer, who had no COVID-19 on his farm.
For its part, the CEO of Agéco Group, Isabelle Charron, believes that the nature of the work may explain why some people hesitate to do it.
“These are physical tasks, with the heat, it’s still demanding. It’s long hours. There are a certain number of Quebecers who realized, after a few hours in the field, that it was not made for them, “she said.