Budget cuts mean growers must help other growers

Since there are no longer provincial ministry staff doing the work

A Summerland Ambrosia apple grower is travelling up and down the valley this spring to help fellow orchardists tend to their farms so they can produce fruit that will bring them top returns.

With extension staff virtually eliminated from the provincial agriculture ministry budget, Gof Shandler says it’s now up to growers to help fellow growers upgrade their skills.

So, he’s being paid by the New Variety Development Council, through a levy on each box of the Ambrosia variety of apple shipped, to train fellow growers so they produce and ship only fruit of the size and colour desired by retailers.

“There are excess apples in the world right now so to meet the cost of production, we have to grow only the highest value grades of fruit,” explains Shandler, who describes himself as a grower-mentor.

He figures they lose $1 million a year by growing small fruit instead of optimizing production, partly because they’re not getting the technical help they need, with a bare bones staff at the ministry offices now.

Overall, he says the sizes of apple grown have decreased in recent years, which brings down the overall quality of fruit shipped, and affects all growers of that niche-market variety of apple.

By focussing on quality, he says he can make $12,000 to $16,000 an acre growing Ambrosia apples. It’s a new variety discovered by Cawston-area growers Wilf and Sally Mennell.

By growing lower quality fruit, growers make less than the cost of producing them.

“I love growing apples. I hate the business side and I sympathize with growers who have spent the money but are not getting the technical help they need to grow the best fruit,” he comments.

Shandler has been growing apples for 30 years, and is the second generation of his family to grow tree fruits in Summerland, where he planted his Ambrosias 11 years ago. He says that variety is sensitive to over-cropping and also to high nitrogen fertilizer, so it’s essential that crop loads be controlled and that the balance of fertilizer be maintained.

“Fruit is sorted to size and defect,” notes Shandler, so growers must grow to those specifications in order to get the best bang for their buck.

There’s not much point in growing the variety, for which growers pay an extra fee, unless you grow top quality apples, so you get your money back from the market.

“I throw fruit on the ground that won’t make up my cost of production. I ship very few very small or very large apples. Mostly I ship traditional sizes because that’s what the retailer wants and that’s where I’ll get the best money,” he explains.

Shandler was also critical of the federal government for not protecting farmers better.

Instead, he says, cheap imports are permitted to be brought in and sold at less than the cost of production of fruit in B.C.

“I’m disappointed in the government for not protecting us from such cheap imports from areas where there are subsidies and where there is hidden government assistance with such input costs as water,” he adds.

Shandler figures he can get around to 50 farms or so this spring, and will return later in the season to talk with those orchardists about the results and suggest other practices that will help increase the financial returns for their fruit.

Growers who would like some guidance with growing Ambrosias can contact Shandler through their field service representative.