TORONTO, Canada – A programme that supplies Ontario farmers experiencing domestic labour shortages with seasonal workers from Mexico and the Caribbean is the “lynchpin” of the province’s multi-billion-dollar horticultural sector, according to a new study.
The Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) is a key reason Ontario’s horticulture industry is able to generate $5.4 billion in economic activity and approximately 34,280 jobs, according to research recently released by Guelph-based Agri-food Economic Systems.
“We’ve understood for years from speaking with growers how important this labour programme is to the bottom line of individual farm operations,” said Ken Forth, President of Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (FARMS), which administers the programme. “This report helps us to get an accurate picture of just how important SAWP is to the horticultural sector and to our economy as a whole.”
Established in 1966 to respond to a critical shortage of available domestic agricultural workers, SAWP continues to serve the same role today, connecting Ontario farmers with supplementary seasonal labour from Mexico, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, and the Eastern Caribbean States.
Because SAWP is a ‘Canadians first’ programme, supplementary seasonal farm labour is hired from participating countries only if agricultural operators cannot find domestic workers to fill vacancies.
Approximately 1,450 farms benefited from the programme this year, hiring nearly 17,000 seasonal workers. While some of them will continue in their placements for several more weeks during the fall harvest, many are beginning to return home on a daily basis as they complete their work terms.
The report by Agri-food Economic Systems found that chronic labour shortages continue to challenge the agricultural sector due to aging demographics, competition with other sectors and fewer numbers of young people pursuing careers in farming. As a result, demand for workers under SAWP is projected to remain steady.
“Without the steady source of reliable seasonal workers provided through SAWP, many farmers in Ontario’s agri-food industry would have to shut down,” Forth said. “The economic benefits of this programme are huge, particularly in rural parts of the province where it’s so sorely needed.”
It’s estimated that two jobs for Canadians are created in the agri-food industry for every seasonal agricultural worker employed through SAWP at Ontario farms.