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A temporary foreign worker from Mexico plants strawberries on a farm in Mirabel, Que., on May 6, 2020.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

The 2022 growing season will bring more uncertainty for New Brunswick farmers, but the arrival of temporary foreign workers won’t be delayed again this year, says an association representing the province’s agricultural industry.

COVID-19 restrictions over the last two years, which included a two-week isolation period for foreign workers, were costly and inconvenient, Agriculture Alliance of New Brunswick CEO Anna Belliveau said in a recent interview.

“It’s a big relief this year,” she said. “Last year, farmers were told they would have to pay for 14 days’ isolation in hotels (for workers) along with wages and food, and other expenses that other farmers in the Maritimes did not.”

With the recent lifting of all COVID-19 health orders in New Brunswick, fully vaccinated foreign workers can now proceed straight to the farms, she said. Workers still have to abide by federal regulations, which can include random COVID-19 testing at the point of entry into Canada, she added.

About 200 temporary foreign workers arrive each year to fill the labour-intensive jobs on New Brunswick farms – jobs the farmers are not able to fill locally.

“They are pretty much essential to farms because people from the province don’t want to work on farms,” Belliveau said. “There are some farms with up to 40 temporary foreign workers and some of them have been coming for 12 to 15 years.”

Belliveau said the lifting of restrictions is the first piece of good news in two years for the province’s farmers.

“The first year (of the pandemic) in 2020, there was an outright ban until we caused that to be reversed,” she said of foreign workers. “Last year, the whole hotel stay thing was a big cost to farmers. This year seems to be back to normal.”

But uncertainty in the industry remains. Farmers, Belliveau said, are now faced with hefty fuel prices, which has resulted in rising costs for supplies like fertilizer.

The higher overhead costs, she said, are forcing the province’s farmers to decide how much crops they should plant this year – if at all.

“A lot of farmers will go out of business because they cannot afford to plant and lose money,” Belliveau said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen this year.”

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