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Seasonal worker program carries on successful tradition

MISSISSAUGA - Nearly half a century after it was first launched, the seasonal labour program at the root of Ontario’s fruit and vegetable industry continues to reap benefits for growers, workers and participating countries.

Established in 1966 to respond to a critical shortage of available domestic agricultural workers, the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program continues to serve the same role today, connecting Ontario farmers with supplementary seasonal labour from Mexico, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad/Tobago and the Eastern Caribbean States.

Not only does the program benefit Ontario farmers and our overall economy, but also it pays tremendous dividends for the seasonal workers hired each year and the source countries which are partners in SAWP.

“Knowing a reliable source of seasonal workers exists allows farmers to plan for the future, invest in their operations and continue a livelihood that has sometimes been shared by their families for generations,” says Ken Forth, president of Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (F.AR.M.S.).

“Without SAWP, some operations would be forced to stop growing fruits and vegetables altogether, or move into less labour-intensive crops.”

As a result, Ontario would lose a vital source of high-quality, healthy food grown locally and a farming tradition that stretches back to the early days of the province’s European settlement would vanish.

Ontario’s rural communities would also be dealt a damaging economic blow. It’s estimated that two jobs for Canadians are created in the agrifood industry for every seasonal agricultural worker employed through SAWP at Ontario farms.

At the same time, the program provides approximately 15,000 seasonal workers annually well-payingemployment, benefits and educational opportunities not available at home.

“Workers generally earn up to 10 times more than they could in their own countries, which enables them to support their families, educate their children and buy and operate businesses and farms in their own countries,” Forth says.

Countries that have partnered with Canada in SAWP also benefit, receiving a significant infusion of foreign currency.

But the benefit isn’t just monetary. Farm workers return home with new skills and experience that they can pass on in a knowledge transfer that improves agricultural practices in their own countries.

While winter maycurrently have a grip on Ontario, F.A.R.M.S. is busy preparing for the a return of thousands of workers who will help farmers across the province make the upcoming growing season a success.

For more information about Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) visit

August 1, 2014


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