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What you need to know about COVID-19: August 10, 2020
Getting people to work on a farm is a challenge; keeping them even tougher.
Business owners looking for employees to do hard physical work have learned not to sugar coat it.
So, construction company Lively’s, in the Sackville area, looking for a landscape labourer, posted that it’s “easy work as long as you are OK with sweat.”
It’s five days a week, but “if mom still needs to gently wake you, keep scrolling. If you want to make Tik Toks at work, keep scrolling. If you are texting, I hope it’s worth your job.”
The job is described as coming with good pay and benefits, but “you need to be able to stand on your feet, you need to be able to cross the road without a crossing guard.”
Charlie Keddy is almost as blunt. Keddy Farms, near Kentville, is looking for 40 people to pack strawberry plants, starting in mid-September. The job pays $12.55 an hour for 50 to 70 hours per week, and the hours are “Day, Evening, Weekend, Overtime, Early Morning, Morning.”
“We have a crop that we have to pack and deliver to Florida in a specific length of time and, you know, we have to work when the weather permits,” Keddy said after climbing off an open tractor on Thursday. “That may be Saturday night and it could be Sunday morning. We have to work with the weather to get the crops harvested.”
Keddy said once temporary foreign workers were allowed into the province after a COVID-related delay, he was able to get crops planted. COVID hasn’t lessened the challenge of getting people to work on a farm.
“There’s a few people that applied in the spring when we couldn’t get our offshore labour,” he said. “We ran an ad all spring and summer and I think we ended up hiring eight (Canadians) and I think we’re down to one now, maybe, and they’re going back to school when it starts.”
Keddy Farms has 19 foreign workers, and Keddy is not full of hope that he’ll actually get 40 people to pack strawberry plants.
“I’d say about as optimistic as I am that I’ll live to be a hundred and ten,” said Keddy, 67, who doesn’t expect employees to work as hard as he does. “I’m trying to keep my days down to 14 hours or so. I told my son when I turned 65, I was only going to work half days, and he said he didn’t care whether it was the first 12 hours or the second 12 hours.”
The outlook is a bit brighter on Prince Edward Island.
Barry Balsom, owner of Arlington Orchards Farm, is looking for six people to work the apple harvest that will begin in September.
“We operate a 40-acre orchard and we have a regular crew that’s all back, and working, so we’re lucky that way, “Balsom said. “Now, we’re doing a list for apple pickers, traditionally it’s hard getting Canadians to do the harvest.”
Five people, all Canadians, are working in the orchards right now, but apple season is by far their busiest time of the year.
“We’re picking sweet cherries, we actually have a PEI orchard that grows sweet cherries, we harvest about an acre of those. And probably next week we’ll go to plums,” said Balsom. “We do believe that we’re OK for foreign workers because we get ours from strawberry operations or other operations that don’t need the labour at that time, so they can transfer them to us.”
Balsom says if he can’t get Canadians to fill the vacancies, he’ll get offshore labour. He’s offering $12.85 an hour for 40 to 60 hours of work per week.
“The province put in a pretty good program over here. Foreign workers come in and they are isolated at a hotel, Brudenell I do believe it is. So, everybody is safe and it seems like it’s well under control, well managed. As an island resident, I’ve been impressed by how the island government has handled the situation.”