Flamborough grower says minimum wage incease will hurt farmers

News Oct 13, 2017 by Mac Christie Flamborough Review

Flamborough broccoli grower Ken Forth is warning the planned minimum wage increase in Ontario could have a huge negative impact on farmers.

Forth, who is the chairman of the labour section of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers, said the increases brought on by Bill 148, which will see wages increase to $14 per hour Jan. 1, 2018 and $15 per hour Jan. 1, 2019 will impact all of agriculture.

“It’s going to increase the wages by 24 per cent come January and 32 per cent total by January of 2019,” he said, adding the industry wasn’t given time to plan for increases. “I don’t know any company that can withstand that kind of pressure.”

Forth noted farmers aren’t against high wages – the problem is that farmers are price takers.

“Most agriculture products in Canada are priced based upon how much somebody like Mexico or Guatemala or South America or China can put food into Toronto,” he said. “Their labour coefficient is less than a dollar an hour – it forces our prices down.

“We are told what we will receive and that can change on a daily basis,” he continued. “In essence, that’s the problem and I don’t know how it is going to get resolved.

“Mexico is in there at 50 cents an hour and we’re sitting here at $15.”

Forth said what will happen in some cases is farmers will move to crops that don’t require as much labour.

“There’s already a diminished horticulture industry,” he explained.

“If you drive around Waterdown and Millgrove you’ll see fields that used to be horticulture crops that are now growing grain crops.”

Forth added in many cases, farmers who have switched to grain can’t make a living growing it because they don’t have the required acreage to grow the necessary volume to make money.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to this industry,” he said. “It’s going to diminish even more.

“It won’t happen immediately – it won’t be drop-dead in January – people will try and make it work.”

However, Forth said people will drop out of the business over time if something doesn’t happen to force prices up.

Forth also serves as the president of Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (F.A.R.M.S.), which administers the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program. The program will place approximately 17,000 season workers at Ontario farms this year.

However, he said the wage increase will have an impact on all farm workers, foreign or not.

“This is all of agriculture and this is all of fruits and vegetables – no matter if they’re foreign workers or not,” he said. “We would like to pay our people, no question.

“But first of all, the consumers won’t pay more for the food and number two, the chain stores won’t either because they leverage us against their world crops.”

While the Ontario Ministry of Labour website indicates farm workers are exempt from minimum wage requirements, Forth said the exemption is never used.

“I think that exemption has been in the Ministry of Labour since they’ve been writing the law,” he said. “But it’s never used because nobody will work for less than that.

“As far as the foreign workers are concerned, their contract reads the provincial minimum or the federal prevailing wage rate – whichever is higher.”

He added housing, as well as local transportation and half of airfare, is free for foreign workers.

“We’re probably already, most of us, in real dollar terms, at $15,” he said of farmers. “We go to this kind of wage, we’re going to be so high that we will be cost-uncompetitive in the world.”

Forth said Canadians are going to have to realize that if they’re satisfied eating fruits and vegetables from elsewhere in the world, they don’t have the same food safety regulations or labour laws.

“I think Canada has to produce some of its own food,” he said. “The fruit and vegetable industry is more than 70 per cent imported overall, every year.

“I think we’ve got to produce some food here.”

Forth noted he spoken to a number of government officials, some of whom understand the impact on the agriculture sector.

“Nobody in their right mind is going to keep doing this – this business is risky enough as it is,” he said. “Most of us love to do it – or did – it’s risky enough as it is and if anything goes haywire, you’re in big trouble and it will be the end of it.”

He added if agriculture in Ontario were to fail it would cost thousands of Canadian jobs.

He noted Ontario is the largest agricultural province in Canada, in terms of farm-gate value, with everything from livestock, poultry and dairy to grains, oilseeds and horticulture.

“Most people don’t realize how important it is to the economy of Ontario – whether they eat it or not – it’s important to the economy.”

Forth, who employs 20 people at his Copetown-area farm, said the plan is to keep holding their breath.

“When the receipts are in by the end of the year we will factor in a $2.60 increase and we’ll see if it’s red or black,” he said. “Then we’ll have to make a decision.

“It’s going to be different, it’s going to be tough.”

Flamborough grower says minimum wage incease will hurt farmers

News Oct 13, 2017 by Mac Christie Flamborough Review

Flamborough broccoli grower Ken Forth is warning the planned minimum wage increase in Ontario could have a huge negative impact on farmers.

Forth, who is the chairman of the labour section of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers, said the increases brought on by Bill 148, which will see wages increase to $14 per hour Jan. 1, 2018 and $15 per hour Jan. 1, 2019 will impact all of agriculture.

“It’s going to increase the wages by 24 per cent come January and 32 per cent total by January of 2019,” he said, adding the industry wasn’t given time to plan for increases. “I don’t know any company that can withstand that kind of pressure.”

Forth noted farmers aren’t against high wages – the problem is that farmers are price takers.

“Most agriculture products in Canada are priced based upon how much somebody like Mexico or Guatemala or South America or China can put food into Toronto,” he said. “Their labour coefficient is less than a dollar an hour – it forces our prices down.

“We are told what we will receive and that can change on a daily basis,” he continued. “In essence, that’s the problem and I don’t know how it is going to get resolved.

“Mexico is in there at 50 cents an hour and we’re sitting here at $15.”

Forth said what will happen in some cases is farmers will move to crops that don’t require as much labour.

“There’s already a diminished horticulture industry,” he explained.

“If you drive around Waterdown and Millgrove you’ll see fields that used to be horticulture crops that are now growing grain crops.”

Forth added in many cases, farmers who have switched to grain can’t make a living growing it because they don’t have the required acreage to grow the necessary volume to make money.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to this industry,” he said. “It’s going to diminish even more.

“It won’t happen immediately – it won’t be drop-dead in January – people will try and make it work.”

However, Forth said people will drop out of the business over time if something doesn’t happen to force prices up.

Forth also serves as the president of Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (F.A.R.M.S.), which administers the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program. The program will place approximately 17,000 season workers at Ontario farms this year.

However, he said the wage increase will have an impact on all farm workers, foreign or not.

“This is all of agriculture and this is all of fruits and vegetables – no matter if they’re foreign workers or not,” he said. “We would like to pay our people, no question.

“But first of all, the consumers won’t pay more for the food and number two, the chain stores won’t either because they leverage us against their world crops.”

While the Ontario Ministry of Labour website indicates farm workers are exempt from minimum wage requirements, Forth said the exemption is never used.

“I think that exemption has been in the Ministry of Labour since they’ve been writing the law,” he said. “But it’s never used because nobody will work for less than that.

“As far as the foreign workers are concerned, their contract reads the provincial minimum or the federal prevailing wage rate – whichever is higher.”

He added housing, as well as local transportation and half of airfare, is free for foreign workers.

“We’re probably already, most of us, in real dollar terms, at $15,” he said of farmers. “We go to this kind of wage, we’re going to be so high that we will be cost-uncompetitive in the world.”

Forth said Canadians are going to have to realize that if they’re satisfied eating fruits and vegetables from elsewhere in the world, they don’t have the same food safety regulations or labour laws.

“I think Canada has to produce some of its own food,” he said. “The fruit and vegetable industry is more than 70 per cent imported overall, every year.

“I think we’ve got to produce some food here.”

Forth noted he spoken to a number of government officials, some of whom understand the impact on the agriculture sector.

“Nobody in their right mind is going to keep doing this – this business is risky enough as it is,” he said. “Most of us love to do it – or did – it’s risky enough as it is and if anything goes haywire, you’re in big trouble and it will be the end of it.”

He added if agriculture in Ontario were to fail it would cost thousands of Canadian jobs.

He noted Ontario is the largest agricultural province in Canada, in terms of farm-gate value, with everything from livestock, poultry and dairy to grains, oilseeds and horticulture.

“Most people don’t realize how important it is to the economy of Ontario – whether they eat it or not – it’s important to the economy.”

Forth, who employs 20 people at his Copetown-area farm, said the plan is to keep holding their breath.

“When the receipts are in by the end of the year we will factor in a $2.60 increase and we’ll see if it’s red or black,” he said. “Then we’ll have to make a decision.

“It’s going to be different, it’s going to be tough.”

Flamborough grower says minimum wage incease will hurt farmers

News Oct 13, 2017 by Mac Christie Flamborough Review

Flamborough broccoli grower Ken Forth is warning the planned minimum wage increase in Ontario could have a huge negative impact on farmers.

Forth, who is the chairman of the labour section of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers, said the increases brought on by Bill 148, which will see wages increase to $14 per hour Jan. 1, 2018 and $15 per hour Jan. 1, 2019 will impact all of agriculture.

“It’s going to increase the wages by 24 per cent come January and 32 per cent total by January of 2019,” he said, adding the industry wasn’t given time to plan for increases. “I don’t know any company that can withstand that kind of pressure.”

Forth noted farmers aren’t against high wages – the problem is that farmers are price takers.

“Most agriculture products in Canada are priced based upon how much somebody like Mexico or Guatemala or South America or China can put food into Toronto,” he said. “Their labour coefficient is less than a dollar an hour – it forces our prices down.

“We are told what we will receive and that can change on a daily basis,” he continued. “In essence, that’s the problem and I don’t know how it is going to get resolved.

“Mexico is in there at 50 cents an hour and we’re sitting here at $15.”

Forth said what will happen in some cases is farmers will move to crops that don’t require as much labour.

“There’s already a diminished horticulture industry,” he explained.

“If you drive around Waterdown and Millgrove you’ll see fields that used to be horticulture crops that are now growing grain crops.”

Forth added in many cases, farmers who have switched to grain can’t make a living growing it because they don’t have the required acreage to grow the necessary volume to make money.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to this industry,” he said. “It’s going to diminish even more.

“It won’t happen immediately – it won’t be drop-dead in January – people will try and make it work.”

However, Forth said people will drop out of the business over time if something doesn’t happen to force prices up.

Forth also serves as the president of Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (F.A.R.M.S.), which administers the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program. The program will place approximately 17,000 season workers at Ontario farms this year.

However, he said the wage increase will have an impact on all farm workers, foreign or not.

“This is all of agriculture and this is all of fruits and vegetables – no matter if they’re foreign workers or not,” he said. “We would like to pay our people, no question.

“But first of all, the consumers won’t pay more for the food and number two, the chain stores won’t either because they leverage us against their world crops.”

While the Ontario Ministry of Labour website indicates farm workers are exempt from minimum wage requirements, Forth said the exemption is never used.

“I think that exemption has been in the Ministry of Labour since they’ve been writing the law,” he said. “But it’s never used because nobody will work for less than that.

“As far as the foreign workers are concerned, their contract reads the provincial minimum or the federal prevailing wage rate – whichever is higher.”

He added housing, as well as local transportation and half of airfare, is free for foreign workers.

“We’re probably already, most of us, in real dollar terms, at $15,” he said of farmers. “We go to this kind of wage, we’re going to be so high that we will be cost-uncompetitive in the world.”

Forth said Canadians are going to have to realize that if they’re satisfied eating fruits and vegetables from elsewhere in the world, they don’t have the same food safety regulations or labour laws.

“I think Canada has to produce some of its own food,” he said. “The fruit and vegetable industry is more than 70 per cent imported overall, every year.

“I think we’ve got to produce some food here.”

Forth noted he spoken to a number of government officials, some of whom understand the impact on the agriculture sector.

“Nobody in their right mind is going to keep doing this – this business is risky enough as it is,” he said. “Most of us love to do it – or did – it’s risky enough as it is and if anything goes haywire, you’re in big trouble and it will be the end of it.”

He added if agriculture in Ontario were to fail it would cost thousands of Canadian jobs.

He noted Ontario is the largest agricultural province in Canada, in terms of farm-gate value, with everything from livestock, poultry and dairy to grains, oilseeds and horticulture.

“Most people don’t realize how important it is to the economy of Ontario – whether they eat it or not – it’s important to the economy.”

Forth, who employs 20 people at his Copetown-area farm, said the plan is to keep holding their breath.

“When the receipts are in by the end of the year we will factor in a $2.60 increase and we’ll see if it’s red or black,” he said. “Then we’ll have to make a decision.

“It’s going to be different, it’s going to be tough.”