PRINCE ALBERT -- Jhulio Vanegas has worked in Saskatchewan for 13 years.

The Nicaraguan has a job in Shellbrook at Hannigan’s Honey for six months, spending the rest of the year in his home country.

He calls Saskatchewan his “second home” and he has recently returned for this season.

“I feel happy, I was excited to come back here to do my work.”

Canadian farmers that rely on foreign workers are facing challenges because of the pandemic.

With commercial flights cancelled, the Canadian Honey Council is chartering private flights to bring employees to the prairies to work for honey producers for the season.

“There’s some real difficulties that the pandemic has created for western Canadian producers that the government hasn’t considered,” said Canadian Honey Council executive director Rod Scarlett.

Saskatchewan honey producers are the largest employer of temporary workers from Nicaragua with between 175 and 200 workers, says Scarlett.

The first flight in 2021 from Nicaragua to Calgary has arrived. There are two more scheduled for April and May, says Scarlett. Some of the challenges include the COVID-19 testing that has to be done at the airport.

He says the instructions to the COVID-19 test supplied at the airport were not in Spanish, only in English and French and that caused a large delay for passengers once they landed in Calgary.

The test kits are also to be sent back with a courier which doesn’t operate in many rural communities such as Tisdale.

Scarlett says the federal government is making the next flights from Nicaragua more difficult to arrange because those passenger might not be able to take commercial flights out of Calgary to get closer to their places of work in other provinces.

“The public health agency has imposed something on rural prairie farmers that has no relevance compared to Ontario and Quebec greenhouses and meat packing plants,” said Scarlett.

“The experiences that our industry has are not equal.”

Scarlett says the federal government should not apply protocols developed for larger operations in Ontario and Quebec to small farms because an average honey operation only employs five to 10 foreign employees. He also says there hasn’t been a positive case of COVID-19 in the beekeeping industry among foreign workers.

Vanegas says while he is here he is grateful he has a Saskatchewan health card and he would take the COVID-19 vaccine if it was offered to him while in Saskatchewan.