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Foreign farm worker numbers are increasing

By Grant Ullyot W

hat started outmore than 10 years ago as a programto recruitMexican farmworkers,

with only a handful coming into Canada towork on local farms, has nowgrown to some 4,000workers fromMexico and the Caribbean countries. They are employed by berry and

greenhouse growers in the Fraser Valley and in the tree fruit industry in the Okanagan. About a third of the imported labor is employed by berry growers, another third by the greenhouse industry, and the remainder by tree fruit growers. RhondaDriediger,who owns and

operatesDriediger Farms in Langley, chairs the farmworkers program,which she points out,was first promoted in B.C. by theRaspberry Industry Development Council. She said she is not surprised that

Canadians do notwant towork as berry pickers and at other agricultural jobs because they can’tmake a lot ofmoney. “Agriculture is at the bottomof the

employment scale,” saysDriediger,” and thatmakes it tough to find local labor. Howevermany foreignworkers are only too eager to come andwork in Canada.” For a grower, hiring foreignworkers

is not cheap. First theymust provide reasonable accommodation for the workers. Theymust also pay their transportation costs and some other benefits. But the foreignworkermust pay his or her ownmedical. Allworkers are paid aminimumwage that is calculated annually. Driediger Farms employs 6 to 8

foreignworkers on 160 acreswhere they growand process strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries The growth in the number of foreign

farmworkerswill continue, says Driediger, especially if anticipated expansion in the blueberry industry materializes. Information regarding the hiring of

TFW(temporary foreignworkers) is available on the federal government website,

Todd May, right, chair of the B.C. Cranberry Research Society, makes a special presentation to Jack Wessel, a driving force behind establishment of the research farm, whose entrance road now bears his name.

Ribbon cut for a first in Canada Cranberry research farmofficially opened.

By Grant Ullyot T

here was a good turnout in Delta for September’s official opening of the one and only cranberry research farm in Canada, also attended by representatives from the provincial government, Delta

council and personnel who will utilize the farm. The farm was the brainchild of Jack Wessel, former manager of the BC

Cranberry Marketing Commission. It was he who triggered the effort to get the research farm developed when he suggested to John Savage, a former B.C. agriculture minister, that he should inquire about the status of some surplus land set aside for the construction of the South Fraser Perimeter Road. It is located off the road that leads into the Vancouver landfill in Delta. Savage ran with the suggestion and talked to people he knew in the

highways ministry and the construction company, among others, and determined the land available would make an excellent site for the proposed research farm. Discussions led to the Cranberry Growers Association purchasing about 20 acres of land with a peat moss base. The federal government through its Western Diversification Fund provided organizers with a $200,000 grant to cover the cost of purchase of the property. The idea to create a research facility had been on the minds of the movers

and shakers in the cranberry industry for several years. Now, a service building has been built, and five research bogs established

and planted by local cranberry growers supervised by Grant Keefer and Todd May. Other experimental plantings were put in by personnel from Rutgers University in New Jersey. Both plantings included some new varieties of cranberry plants that will hopefully be better producers than the current variety. Growers and others at the opening were given a tour of the farm and were

told about the experimental and standard varieties of cranberries that were planted this year. At the opening, Nick Vorsa a researcher from Rutgers, talked about what

he called ‘the benefits’ of the farm. Kim Patton then spoke to the assembled group, explaining his role as its scientific director. “There is still a lot of work ahead before cranberry growers reap the

benefits of having their own research organization,” said Jack Brown, chair of the cranberry marketing commission.

British Columbia Berry Grower • Winter 2014-15 9

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