The apple growers of the Okanagan know what’s wrong.
Now they just need to find a way to fix it.
You name it, and it has gone wrong for the region’s orchardists in the last couple of years. The quality of the 2019 crop turned out to be not as strong as it looked like it was going to be. U.S. producers dumped a boatload of apples in the Canadian market due to increased tariffs to China. BC Tree Fruits Co-operative, which represents 70% of Okanagan growers, has had its issues while undergoing several leadership changes in recent years. Small packinghouses panicked and sold their apples well below the going rate, which undermined the market.
“It was just a hurricane of events,” BC Fruit Growers Association general manager Glen Lucas said this week during a break in his organization’s 131st annual general meeting at Coast Capri Hotel.
“… It’s discouraging where we find ourselves. It’s encouraging that the growers are really together and the organizations are really seizing the baton and running. Will we have time? That’s the question. That’s where a little help from government would go a long way.”
Growers are facing a serious cash crunch after three years of woe. They are earning between 15 and 17 cents per pound, but it’s costing them approximately 26 cents to produce.
As dire as the current situation is, Lucas is just as positive about the future. Co-op producers found out on Jan. 31 that they would not be getting as much money for their apples as they hoped, but BCFGA officials have already met with the provincial government about getting help. They want anti-dumping duties to protect themselves from the Americans, they are encouraging all growers to enrol in the recently increased AgriStability insurance program to determine its effectiveness, they want to export their product to more Asian countries, and they want to educate smaller producers so they don’t panic and sell their apples at discount prices.
“We’re not laying fault here,” Lucas said. “We’re saying: Let’s help them get information. So we need to gather market information and then get it back to them on a weekly or biweekly basis to make sure people don’t panic.”
Some of the other changes the BCFGA would like to see is even more AgriStability coverage, tax rebates, a rebate on irrigation water fees, a remission of insurance premiums and a rebate on the sterile insect release acreage fee.
Lucas is also encouraged by the new leadership at BC Tree Fruits. Warren Sarafinchan last September became the co-op’s fourth CEO in four years, and he jumped into the role with both feet. Lucas said Sarafinchan, who gave a presentation at the conference on Wednesday, brought in experts to fix the organization’s myriad problems. Those experts said it normally takes a year to correct those issues, but they were asked to get it done in three months.
“That’s how urgent it is,” Lucas said. “They realize that it’s do or die.”
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