COVID created ‘nightmare’ season for Haldimand-Norfolk farmers

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This was a year to forget for farmers in Haldimand-Norfolk. But with the pandemic far from over and another labour shortage possible, 2021 could feel like déjà vu.

“This COVID is a real nightmare for farmers,” said Larry Davis, a director with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture representing Brant, Haldimand and Norfolk counties.

Davis said variable weather and delays in getting migrant workers into the country caused headaches for farmers across the industry.

“There were times when harvesting was difficult or even planting was difficult because they didn’t have enough help to plant their crops and get them to harvest,” he said.

The spring asparagus harvest was a harbinger of things to come. Davis said locals could not replace the work ethic and expertise of offshore workers who were barred from entering Canada or were sidelined by COVID-19, including a fatal outbreak at Scotlynn Group’s Vittoria farm.

That meant fewer acres harvested, with some farmers sitting out the season altogether.

Farmers’ frustration continued as scorching summer temperatures baked strawberries in the fields, while an early frost wiped out much of the fall tobacco crop.

“Farmers are worried about their ability to stay in the same type of farming,” Davis said, explaining that some growers ripped out their labour-intensive fruit and vegetable crops in favour of lower-maintenance grain and oilseed crops like corn and soybeans.