Apple harvest signals end of tough year for Okanagan growers

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Apple harvest signals end of tough year for Okanagan growers | News

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The season’s first apples are being plucked off trees in the Okanagan Valley, marking the final chapter in what has been an extraordinarily difficult season for many growers.

“Apples look to be a better story than cherries were in terms of what Mother Nature did to them,” said Laurel Van Dam, director of sales and marketing, for the B.C. Tree Fruits Cooperative.

“On average, it looks to be a pretty solid apple crop.”

Cherry growers saw their trees undergo a deep freeze in January, then endured another cold spell after cherries blossomed in April, all of which was followed by a wet June, contributing to widespread rain-split.

“So, it was a disappointing season to say the least,” said Van Dam, whose organization packs for about 400 members growers.

She estimated the cherry harvest at about 75% of normal but said final numbers won’t be known for several more months. On the bright side, prices were relatively strong as a result of the small crop and a shortage of labour to pick it. The same went for other fruits, like peaches, plums and pears.

But that’s not to say growers are laughing all the way to bank.

Although people often see the apples selling for upwards of $2 a pound in grocery stores, farmers don’t see anywhere close to that.

“I would say the average return to the industry is 16 to 25 cents a pound,” said Steve Brown, who runs the award-winning Happy Valley Harvest orchard in Summerland.

“Those are actual numbers. I know those numbers.”

Brown, whose 12 acres produce about one million pounds of apples each year, including Ambrosias, Galas and Pink Ladies, isn’t sure he’ll even get that much this season.

Perhaps as much as 90% of his crop was damaged by hail, meaning the apples can’t even be used for juice because their skins were pierced and they’ll rot before they can be pressed.

However, the fruit still needs to be picked, because it can damage trees when it falls to the ground and create a giant, sticky mess.

“It’s like dumping 100,000 pounds of apple sauce on the orchard,” he said.

2019 marketed production of fresh B.C. fruit (metric tonnes)

Apples: 104,000

Blueberries: 86,000

Grapes: 31,200

Cranberries: 30,500

Sweet cherries: 21,200

Raspberries: 6,800

Peaches: 5,600

Pears: 5,300

Strawberries: 1,200

Plums: 1,400

Nectarines: 760

Source: Statistics Canada

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