Minimum wage increases and challenges getting foreign guest workers make mechanization increasingly attractive to Ontario's produce growers. ( Courtesy Nightingale Farms )

With two minimum wage increases in the past year for Ontario growers and another likely for next year, higher costs for labor have slowed any expansion ideas, some say.

Ontario’s minimum wage jumped from $11.60 to $12 last October, and rose again to $14 per hour in January, said Eric Chanyi, vice president of Windham Centre, Ontario-based Shabatura Farms Ltd.

Some growers have cut back to save costs, though acreage is mostly stable, he said.

Growers who receive workers in the foreign workers program can also face challenges in getting the workers on time, said Jody Mott, executive director of the Holland Marsh Growers Association.

She said there have been some delays in receiving foreign workers from Mexico, Trinidad and other countries due to changes and regulations in those countries.

If you are not trying to minimize labor and buy whatever automation you can afford each year, you are probably not going to be long for the business.

In addition, growers have expressed frustration with delays relating to spot check routine auditing by government regulators, which can hold up worker availability for days or weeks.

Mott said the minimum wage in Canada is $14 an hour in Ontario and depending on the next government it could go up to $15 next year. Growers must also pay housing and transportation costs for foreign workers.

Growers are looking for innovation and mechanization to save labor costs and preserve profitability.

“If you are not trying to minimize labor and buy whatever automation you can afford each year, you are probably not going to be long for the business,” said Paul Smith, part owner of Queensville, Ontario-based Smith Gardens.

 
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