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Canadian growers happy with wage increase

farmworkers heat

Well, this is unusual.

I come across a news item indicating that growers are quite happy with a government-mandated wage increase. Workers get wage hike –

In this case, it is in British Columbia, and the increase is actually rather pitiful—2.8 percent—in times of gripping inflation. It is the first increase since 11.9 percent in 2019.

But the idea that growers are actually happy with a pay increase for farm labor—that is something I have never seen in American agriculture, where labor costs have long been a source of bitter and, frankly, not always appetizing complaints.

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The wage increases involve piece rates, which are specified for 15 crops: $23.01 a half bin for grapes and peaches, $0.628 a kilogram for cherries and $21.65 a bin for apples. (Prices are in Canadian dollars.)

Mandated piece rates were instituted by the government of British Columbia in 1981.

This issue should be seen in the larger context of agriculture’s constant challenge that “we need to tell our story.”

Agriculture is telling its story. Unintentionally.

Skeptics will say when growers are complaining about having to pay higher wages, they are sending a signal to the public that they do not care about their workers.

No doubt this is wrong in most cases, but it amplifies an image of farm labor oppression that goes back to the days of John Steinbeck’s Depression-era novel In Dubious Battle, which describes a bitter fight between California apple growers and the (in this case American) migrant laborers for better pay. (James Franco directed a film version in 2016.) In Dubious Battle (2016) – IMDb

The Grapes of Wrath, published in 1939 and considered Steinbeck’s masterpiece, narrates the plight of Okie migrant laborers in California. Made into a classic 1940 film by John Ford, it did not improve public images of California growers either. Nor did the highly publicized activism of Cesar Chavez and his United Farm Workers in the 1960s.

This situation must be seen clearly, as must its impacts. California growers feel it every day in what they often correctly believe is an insensitivity of state government to their needs and interests.

I was also surprised when social media star Kaitlyn Thornton, discussing her family’s Washington apple operation, showed pride in the $17.50 an hour they pay their workers. Kaitlyn Thornton is telling our story on social media – Produce Blue Book

She even called the H-2A program—a frequent source of grumbling—“so beneficial to all parties involved.”

That’s doing a better job of “telling our story.”


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.