It was a million-dollar hit for Aphria Inc. when 14,000 harvest-ready marijuana plants had to be tossed out in August. Between bud and trim for oil extraction, it meant the loss of about 2,000 kilograms of retail product.
The reason? It wasn’t the quality of the cannabis — rather, the multibillion-dollar company found itself with nobody to collect the cannabis crop at its Leamington-based greenhouse production facility.
“We hired 52 bodies on a Monday — by Saturday, we had eight left,” Aphria CEO Vic Neufeld told the Star.
Aphria had gone on a locals-only hiring spree for what were low-skill-level jobs paying what the company said are competitive compensation rates in the agricultural sector. But the weather can get stifling in Essex County in July and August, and greenhouse work at the peak of the summer season can be hot, humid and hard, even with plenty of liquids and water coolers strategically located in the workplace.
“The locals have never worked in that environment,” Neufeld said of the summer walkout of employees.
The Leamington area is the greenhouse-growing capital of North America, but greenhouse work is unattractive to most Canadians, and that is one of the reasons why senior governments have allowed tens of thousands of foreign workers to be brought in as agricultural labourers. Neufeld said the cannabis sector’s licensed producers, however, have had to argue to be included in the Agricultural Worker Program, even though “we said we’re also growing a plant in a greenhouse.”