Peach, plum crops hurting
Sarah Crookall - May 23, 2024 - Biz Releases

South Okanagan fruit farmers are seeing a tougher-than-usual year, facing an especially bleak outlook for their peaches, nectarines and plums.

Osoyoos’ Peach Hill Farm Market has been in business for nearly 30 years but is currently seeing one of the worst seasons throughout that time.

“We have 100 per cent crop every year, but (this is the) first year we don’t have that,” Peach Hill Farm Market owner Kuljeet Kaler said.

Not one peach grew on their farm this year, an item that usually sells by the case.

In January, a cold snap caused temperatures to dip as low as -30 C in some areas of the Okanagan.

“That had a devastating effect on especially peaches, nectarines, plums. You’d be lucky to find a peach or nectarine from the U.S. border all the way to Vernon, that’s how bad it was,” former B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association president Pinder Dhaliwal said.

Many farmers and buyers expected the season to be tough.

Back in March, Farm Credit Canada announced it would consider additional short-term credit options, deferral of principal payments and/or other loan payment schedule amendments to ease the financial pressures on agricultural producers.

But many did not expect so many stone fruit trees to be leaching out and collapsing.

“The old trees, like the 10 [to] 15 year old trees, they are dying,” Kaler said. “But the young trees, they survive. … Four- or five-year-old trees, they’re good. But the nectarine trees are the most affected. They are dying.”

Dhaliwal said fruit trees dying in this way this early in the spring season is not typical.

“If trees are dying right now in such kind of cool weather, just imagine July, August, when the heatwave hits. That’s going to really put stress on the trees’ vascular system.”

The province does offer production insurance for a variety of crops that see losses caused by weather such as hail, frost, excessive rain, fire, flooding, drought and wildlife. Coverage is geared towards the percentage of crop lost.

Dhaliwal said, in his opinion, the insurance is insufficient in many cases.

“Because when you plant an orchard, it’s planted in apples, cherries and peaches and soft fruit. But the tree insurance payout is based on the whole farm average. So if the cherries are doing okay, the apples are doing okay and your peach block is destroyed, the farmer doesn’t get anything.”

Dhawali added many farmers have been losing crops for the last three years, plunging reference margins down farther each year.

Some farmers are left replacing trees entirely.

Even so, it can take four years for new trees to produce fruit, and many local nurseries don’t have trees to sell. The situation is leaving some farmers with no alternatives.

“We can’t do anything else,” Kaler said. “That’s our living. We’re doing that. We never think about that.”

Peach Hill Farm Market is, however, having a good season for pears, cherries and apples. It also offers vegetables like asparagus and onion, which appear to be doing well this year.

“The good side is that cherries, when they grow a little bit later, they have more time to grow, and we’ll have a big, big cherry this year,” Kaler said.

The fruit stand will open in the second week of June, and its owners are hoping customers will continue to support the farm through the tough year.

“We hope (our customers) can help us,” he said. “We can still sell a lot of ground crops like veggies and cherries, that kind of stuff. I hope people still can come and help us.”

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