Daffodil crop needs pickers; farmers prepare for arrival of workers from Mexico

More than five million ­daffodils are ready to be picked on a ­Saanich Peninsula farm and there’s a tight timeline and an urgent need for workers with strong backs and sturdy legs to cut and bundle the budding ­yellow flowers.

Longview Farms, one of the biggest daffodil producers in Canada, was only able to bring in 11 workers from Mexico this year, so is relying heavily on locals to fill the gap and bring the harvest in on time.

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Nora Cumming, manager at Longview Farms, said the Central Saanich operation normally has about 24 foreign workers, but hired fewer because its on-site accommodations were limited due to COVID-19 safety protocols.

“We need the help,” she said Wednesday. “This year with the weather our flowers are ripening faster than usual, so there is a high demand for workers.”

It’s all about timing with daffodils. The flowers need to be picked, bundled and shipped before they bloom, so that when they hit retail outlets across Canada and the western U.S. the yellow flowers are only starting to emerge.

The harvest of Longview’s 50 acres started in early February and is continuing this month.

The farm has had between 30 and 40 pickers every day this week, but they need more.

Cumming admits it’s hard work — lots of bending and up and down movement on the body — and the pay depends on how fast you are and how much you can endure.

The farm pays 24 cents for a bundle of 10 picked daffodils. There are usually 100 bundles per box.

“The average picker picks four or five boxes a day in a six- to eight-hour period,” said Cumming. “It’s around minimum wage or more for the average picker.”

Meanwhile, the temporary foreign worker program continues amid the pandemic.

Workers in the agricultural, food and seafood sectors arriving in B.C. are required to quarantine in provincially managed accommodations for 14 days, according to the province’s ­latest update.

Employers must also ensure a safe workplace and demonstrate proof of an infection prevention and control protocol before workers can be released from quarantine.

Rob Galey, who farms about 150 acres of berries and ­vegetables in Saanich, expects the first five of 20 Mexican workers he’s hired this spring to arrive in Vancouver on Monday.

Last year, he hired 16 ­Mexican workers.

Galey credits the province for picking up the tab for the 14-day quarantine, which includes meals and supervision. “As a farmer, it’s one thing I can rely on, so I’m thankful for [Premier] John Horgan and [Agriculture Minister] Lana Popham for continuing this program,” said Galey.

“There’s no way that a farmer can safely quarantine that many workers in different houses.”

Galey said the initial five foreign workers will immediately go to work pruning raspberry and blueberry bushes, preparing potato plantings and start putting a half-million strawberry plants into the ground.

dkloster@timescolonist.com

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