Pilot project aims to connect domestic labour, fruit growers to ease worker shortage in B.C.
British Columbia is conducting a pilot program this summer in an effort to ease the labour shortage in vineyards and orchards in the Okanagan.
Its goal is to connect employers with seasonal domestic workers. BC Fruit Works is a collaboration between the BC Grape Growers’ Association, BC Cherry Association, BC Fruit Growers’ Association and the BC Tree Fruit Cooperative, with support from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food.
“BC Fruit Works is part of our government’s Tree Fruit Industry Stabilization initiative as we look at ways to co-ordinate various agencies through an industry labour strategy,” said Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture and Food. “This collaborative approach is strengthening the B.C. tree-fruit and wine sector, and ensuring their delicious and high-quality products will continue to get into the hands of consumers this summer and in the future.”
Pilot began in June
In June, BC Fruit Works began a trial launch with several goals, including:
- engaging domestic workers to work as branch hands in Okanagan orchards and vineyards;
- leveraging technology, including web forms, social media, text messaging, QR codes, scheduling automation and digital marketing, to build a marketplace that connects workers with producers efficiently and in real time; and
- creating ongoing job opportunities in Okanagan orchards and vineyards, building support for local growers, and protecting and sustaining B.C.’s food supply for years to come.
BC Fruit Works said it is seeing early success, securing 90 branch hands for fruit-harvest jobs and 60 farmers interested in training and adopting technology to maximize profit and minimize food waste.
“The BC Fruit Works program has the potential to shift our fruit industries into a more organized, collaborative unit, ensuring more efficient communication and feedback on the casual workforce that we require to operate as a successful industry,” said John Bayley, president, BC Grape Growers’ Association. ”
It’s a much-needed step toward stabilizing our labour issues throughout all fruit sectors.”
Funding from the province
The B.C. government is providing as much as $90,000 to BC Fruit Works to support the program.
Developing a comprehensive agriculture-centric labour strategy and supporting the industry’s efforts to access labour pools was one of the recommendations in the 2021 Path Forward: A Blueprint for B.C.’s Tree Fruit Industry (Tree Fruit Industry Stabilization Plan).
The province’s fruit, including honeycrisp, ambrosia and pink lady apples as well as late-season cherries, are in high demand locally and around the world, the province said.
More than 60 different grape varieties are produced in B.C., including merlot, pinot gris, pinot noir, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, gewurztraminer, cabernet franc, syrah, riesling and sauvignon blanc.
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