WINDSOR, ONT. -- The Ontario government and the agri-food industry are releasing details of a strategy to prevent COVID-19 transmission and protect workers and the province’s food supply chain ahead of next year’s growing season.

Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Ernie Hardeman outlined details of the strategy on Monday.

“Our government understands the impact COVID-19 outbreaks have had on farm workers, farms, greenhouses and agri-businesses,” said Hardeman. “Ontario’s agri-food sector has worked hard to address a difficult situation and our new strategy will help them to be even more effective in controlling this pandemic, protect our food supply chain and keep workers safe.”

Earlier this summer, Hardeman established a sector leadership group composed of representatives from the agricultural industry, Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development to establish best practices and actions for the prevention and control of COVID-19 transmission in the agriculture and horticulture sector, particularly on farms.

Provincial officials say immediate actions were taken by the leadership group to advise on best practices to reduce the spread of COVID-19 on farms while a more comprehensive strategy was developed for the 2021 growing season.

The resulting joint government-industry Prevention, Control and Outbreak Support Strategy for COVID-19 in Ontario’s Farm Workers, provides guiding principles and actions on how to ensure enhanced prevention and control on farm operations, farm worker safety and wellness, and maintaining the sustainability and viability of the agri-food sector.

The strategy is founded on three pillars related to prevention and containment: before getting on the farm; on the farm; and farm worker housing.

It contains 35 actions and recognizes that all partners — governments at all levels, stakeholder organizations, farmers and workers — have a role to play in preventing and controlling COVID-19 outbreaks on farms.

The strategy is expected to support a sustained effort and longer-term planning to ensure Ontario has the tools needed to protect workers and prevent outbreaks in agri-food workplaces going forward. Partners have already started implementing many of the actions in the strategy.

“We respect and appreciate the efforts of the government, industry stakeholders and farm employers to protect the health and safety of our workers,” said Keith Currie, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. “It is our top priority, and by taking the proper steps to reduce the risk of COVID-19 on farms, the agri-food sector can focus on maintaining a strong and reliable food value chain for all Ontarians.”

Bill George, chair of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association said the health and safety of farm workers is top priority for fruit and vegetable growers.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, growers have made substantial efforts to adapt their farms to protect workers from the risks presented by COVID-19,” said George. “This strategy, and the commitment by the government and industry to work together, further supports the efforts of growers to protect essential farm workers and maintain domestic food production.”

Chair of the Ontario Greenhouse Growers’ Association George Gilvesy said the strategy demonstrates the power of collaboration between industry and government.

“The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have required extraordinary efforts from everyone in government and across our sector — today's announcement is a further demonstration that we are all rising to this challenge,” said Gilvesy.

Hardeman also recognized the proactive work that farmers and food processors across Ontario have undertaken to date implementing prevention and control measures in the workplace to protect their workers.