A central Alberta honey producer was coming off its worse year in two decades and had high hopes for 2020.
Then, COVID-19 hit, and along with it, came travel restrictions that have blocked 16 Mexican workers critical to Nixon Honey’s operation, 20 kilometres east of Innisfail.
Without those experienced temporary foreign workers — some have been with the company for two decades — it would be impossible to maintain production at the family-run operation.
“With the current number of hands, we’d be able to manage 20 to 25 per cent of what we have,” said Kevin Nixon.
At that level, viability becomes a real question.
Late this week, Nixon got what could turn out to be the good news he and thousands of other agricultural producers, who employ 60,000 temporary foreign workers, were waiting for.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Marie-Blaude Bibeau said in a statement that “we have reassured the industry that we will find a way to let them come.
“We still have to develop the conditions under which they will come, because our priority is still to make sure that we protect the health of Canadians.”
Nixon is relieved.
“It’s good news. It depends on how strict the conditions are. It needs to be realistic to get people here in a timely manner.”
Nixon said he and other producers are willing to observe a 14-day quarantine for all arriving foreign workers. They house the workers on site in a rural setting, so following a protocol temporarily limiting person-to-person contact would not be diffcult.
Spring is a critical time in honey production. Six of Nixon’s workers were set to arrive this week and another 10 by the end of April.
It’s just as important for many other agriculture producers, including those in Ontario, where 30,000 to 35,000 temporary foreign workers find jobs every year.
Before the travel restrictions hit, only 7,000 had arrived from their home countries.
“That’s a lot of hands on deck that you don’t have,” he said.
For the foreign workers, their Canadian jobs and the income they provide their families are just as important.
Workers began calling Nixon on Tuesday, saying they were heading to the airport in Mexico City to fly to Canada. He had to tell them to stop.
“There’s a lot of confusion. They’re depending on this work as well.
“They have their work permits and visas and they are ready to go.”
The Western Canadian Wheat Growers also drew attention to the issue this week, calling on the government to impose the same rules on foreign workers as are applied to Canadians returning from abroad.
“The challenge is that many remote grain farms cannot operate without temporary foreign workers as a part of their crew,” say the association.
“The importance of our food value chain cannot be under-estimated for both our domestic or international markets.”