Farmers seek amendment to temporary worker bylaw

Greenhouse farming is more intensive and lasts year round, council told

Finding local farm workers is difficult, say farmers from two Langley greenhouses.

That is why they are asking the Township to amend its Temporary Farm Accommodation bylaw to make it easier to house workers from foreign countries.

SunSelect Produce Inc. and Creekside Hot House want to build modular housing on their properties for temporary foreign workers to live in while on contract.

The workers are brought in on contract from countries such as Guatemala and do not have the right to become permanent residents or permanent workers in Canada.

They return to their home countries once their work is completed. Farmers are only allowed to hire foreign workers once local employment is exhausted.

As the current bylaw stands, bona fide farmers are allowed to have temporary workers occupy accommodations on their property between April 1 and Nov. 30 each year, with a ratio of 10 workers per four hectares, up to a maximum of 40 workers.

But Edith Gubiotti and Victor Krahn of SunSelect argued greenhouse farms are in production all year round, not just during traditional planting and harvesting seasons, and their production rate requires far more than 40 workers.

“Greenhouse farming is more intensive as per how much food you can produce on one acre. It’s about 800 times the amount on a field so it’s an efficient and green way to produce high quality produce,” Krahn told Township council Jan. 16.

In a written statement read aloud to council, Gubiotti says the bylaw is causing “undue hardship” to their greenhouse operations.

“… we are farmers operating in all seasons requiring workers for farm labour throughout the year to produce agricultural products equal to any other farmer but are unable to maintain housing on our farm site for all of our season due to the temporary occupancy clause of the bylaw,” she read.

Together, SunSelect and Creekside are requesting the bylaw be amended so that accommodations can be occupied throughout the year with a ratio of one worker per 1,000 meters squared for greenhouses.

Ideally, SunSelect is hoping to house 60 temporary workers on their property for an entire year and Creekside is wanting 10 to 15.

“It’s very difficult to find labour, and we can’t compete with our friends down south. As a young farmer I am asking you, we need your support and help,” Ravi Cheema of Creekside Hot House pleaded to council.

Currently, the owners at SunSelect are finding rental accommodations for their workers in Aldergrove and are transporting them to and from their farm everyday, something Krahn says is “inefficient for them and for us.”

“It would help us a lot because we could then house them on site, it’s more efficient and it’s generally safer for them as well,” he added.