Travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic have presented labour challenges in several sectors of the ag industry, including orchard crops. Federal ag minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said that by the end of April, 22,000 workers had arrived in Canada, compared to 25,500 in 2019, in a statement on May 12. Though the government and industry are working hard to connect farmers with the labour they need, many growers are being forced to find creative solutions to a growing season with fewer hands on deck.
“With respect to tree fruit production, it’s challenging because they are very labour intensive crops,” Kathryn Carter, fruit crop specialist with OMAFRA, told Farms.com.
This year, “in some cases (growers are) getting a lot less labour than they would usually expect,” she said. To adapt, producers are “evaluating what they do and prioritizing.”
This might involve “looking at blocks and deciding which are the most important that they prune. Maybe blocks that are older that aren’t producing as much and they were thinking of pulling anyway, leaving those until later on, so that way (growers) can see how much time they have and return to them later,” Carter explained.
When pruning, workers “can look at cutting some of the bigger branches out and doing the big stuff first and then coming back later on and doing some fine-tuning,” if they have more time or more hands on deck later on in the season, she added.
OMAFRA and researchers like Dr. John Cline from the University of Guelph have also been promoting the Darwin thinner and other mechanized thinners. Before now, many Ontario producers haven’t been interested in more mechanization because of the orchard structure.