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Orchardists face crop damage losses in the millions
Broken branches hang limply, while leaves are shredded—turned into see-through lace—and fruit has been punctured, bruised and, in some instances, tossed to the ground.
The devastation in orchards, vineyards and fields in Southeast Kelowna is total on some farms.
For the first half of the year, farmers had fertilized their plants, irrigated the roots, pruned the branches, pollinated the flowers, sprayed competing weeds, thinned the young fruit and otherwise tended their crops.
But all those efforts, in some cases their entire crops, were wiped out by a half-hour hailstorm Monday evening that was brutal in its fury.
Hailstones described as the size of marbles slashed leaves into ribbons along the storm’s path, broke branches and flattened whole crops, while farmers could only helplessly watch.
B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association president Jeet Dukhia estimates 25,000 to 30,000 bins of apples have been lost in just a few hailstorms this year, a loss of 10 to 15 per cent of the valley’s crop, with an estimated value of $4 million to $6 million.
Kamaljeet Jaswal, of Spiers Road, has 14 acres of apples, all replanted in the past decade or so to high density Ambrosia, Gala, MacIntosh, Spartan, Granny Smith, Honeycrisp and Golden Delicious apple varieties.
At 6:30 p.m. on Monday, he was looking out the window at an approaching storm cloud when he heard the first rustling, as dry hail began to hit the leaves of his trees.
Then the rain began and the wind, followed by more periods of hail; balls of ice the size of large marbles.
There were still piles of ice around in the orchard the next morning, he says.
The storm was so intense that roads in the area are dotted with patches of gravel and mud from errant streams of runoff from neighbouring properties.
“Yesterday (Monday), I thought this would be a good year, with a beautiful crop of good-sized apples,” he said.
Tuesday, he looked out over an orchard littered with shredded leaves and bruised apples—fruit that isn’t even suitable for juice.
Just last week, Jaswal had even put on an extra spray to help improve the quality of the fruit as harvest approaches in the coming weeks, but that $2,000 just went down the drain in a hail of ice pellets.
Some of the growers affected by this week’s storm in Kelowna have suffered a total loss, with damage not only to this year’s crop, but also to the tree vigour and the fruit buds for next year’s crop.
Because it’s so close to harvest for both apple and grape growers, most of the season’s input costs have already been spent, yet they’ll have no income to pay for them.
“It’s heart-breaking,” said Peter Straume, field man with the B.C. Grape Growers’ Association, who was out Tuesday assessing damage to grape crops.
“Growers (of the Coronation table grapes) were ramping up for harvest, and to be fair, most growers put in far more than the money as they grow the crop, so it really hurts them personally to see such destruction,” he explained.
He’s been in the industry since the 1970s and says he’s never seen such widespread damage.
There’s been a substantial loss of the valuable table grape crop, he figures.
Buta Ghuman, who grows not only apples but wine and table grapes on the bench above Kelowna, says all four locations where he grows were hit hard.
Coronation table grapes, normally ready for harvest in the next week, were flung to the ground in bunches by the force of the wind and the hailstones, along with leaves and branches.
Remaining fruit is oozing juice from the many berries that were sliced open, and hornets are gathering around the sweet blue bunches of broken fruit.
On the five acres of Coronations he leases, Ghuman says he grossed $50,000 last year, and it’s a total loss. He estimates he’s paid out $15,000 already this year to grow that crop.
He has no idea how he will manage with such a significant loss of his livelihood.
Even those who have crop insurance won’t receive even half the returns they would have from the crop, said Dukhia.
Orchardists with younger trees will suffer because losses are estimated from the potential crop sales based on several years of crops from immature trees.
However, Gary Falk, director of the business risk management branch of the local agriculture ministry office, explains that growers receive some basic hail insurance when they purchase overall production insurance coverage before December of the previous year, but they then have the option of increasing the hail insurance part of their coverage later in the growing year, as they see the size of crop they have and gain a better estimate of its value—to ensure they’re adequately covered.
Coverage can be topped up at any time to 80 per cent of probable yield, up until hail damage has occurred.
This week’s damage occurred in an isolated area south of KLO Road, in the Spiers and Swamp Road area.
He says initial assessments indicate 25 to 30 growers have received severe damage, while another 25 to 30 sustained moderate damage.
Some crops will be write-offs, he said, while in some instances even the trees sustained damage. Growers estimate that even cleaning up orchards where the crop has been destroyed will cost $27 a bin more for picking and hauling.
Dukhia intends to invite B.C. Agriculture Minister Pat Pimm to come to Kelowna and see the damage firsthand.