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Kelowna farmers diversify to adapt to climate change

Kelowna’s There and Back Again farms will be selling seedlings alongside their vegetables to supplement the fruit lost to cold snaps this year
Jennifer Deol of There and Back Again Farms in Kelowna standing amongst her peach trees, which are not expected to yield any fruit this year. (Jacqueline Gelineau/Capital News)

The impacts of climate change on the Okanagan’s agricultural industry have pushed some farmers to think ‘outside the box’ and diversify in order to stay in operation.

A dramatic swing in temperatures over this past winter resulted in a nearly 100 per-cent loss of soft fruits, including peaches and apricots, in the Okanagan.

Now, a cold snap in April caused even more damage to the Okanagan’s iconic fruit season, this time impacting grapes and apples, and farmers are left scrambling.

“This is the most challenging season our growers have seen in our lifetime,” said BC Cherry Association president, Sukhpaul Bal about the projected 2024 harvest.

READ MORE: 2024 B.C. cherry season the pits after ‘devastating’ cold snap

There and Back Again (TABA) Farms in Kelowna are working to implement sustainable and diverse farming practices that enabled them to adapt to what the B.C. Government is calling a series of climate change driven “extreme weather events,” which has included heat domes, cold snaps, atmospheric rivers and droughts over the past five years.

In order to avoid complete crop loss depending on what the climate fluctuations will bring, TABA farms cultivate a diverse array of crops that all thrive under different growing conditions.

Jennifer Deol, co-owner of TABA Farms explained that the cold snaps are damaging because plants are unable to adapt to rapid temperature changes. She explained that typically as the weather cools in the fall, trees enter a state of dormancy which halts the flow of water and nutrients through the tree.

READ MORE: Kelowna farmer fears climate change will prune agriculture from family tree

However, the Okanagan’s 2023 fall and early winter season was unseasonably warm. Because of the warm sunny weather, some species of trees –specifically soft fruits like peaches– were still active and growing buds, instead of dormant, when the temperatures suddenly dropped in January.

As a result, the trees’ buds froze and were damaged, rendering them unable to produce fruit.

Then, this spring’s unseasonably warm weather and ideal growing conditions followed by a late frost over the weekend of April 20, claimed even more of TABA’s crops. This time the sub-zero temperatures impacted the grapes, apple and cherry trees that were flowering when temperatures dipped overnight.

Deol added that unseasonably cool weather during the bloom phase also means that fewer bees are active since the fuzzy pollinators do not like windy, wet or low temperatures.

“Without bees to pollinate, fruit will not set on these trees either,” said Deol.

The extent of the damage caused by the April cold snap is not yet known, but Deol anticipates significant reductions in the yield of their apples and table grapes, in addition to the complete loss of cherries and soft fruits like peaches.

“Fruit makes up the majority of our income so we will be operating at a loss,” said Deol, who also works a full-time job to supplement the farm’s revenue.

This year, however, TABA will rely on the ground crops from their vegetable garden and sales from their farm stand to weather the loss of income.

TABA Farms is committed to sustainability and has purposefully avoided the ‘mono-culture’ style of farming in order to be more resistant to climate change.

In addition to ground crops, like tomatoes, kale and cucumber, TABA farms will also be selling seedlings as a way to help generate income early in the season and to promote sustainability.

“This not only helps us to pay our staff and ourselves but encourages more people to grow their own food and lower their carbon footprint from food crop travel,” said Deol.

She said that people need to support their local farmers if they want agriculture to remain an integral part of the Okanagan culture.

“Your local farmers’ markets are a good place to start, ” said Deol.

“Visit your local farms who sell what they grow. In Kelowna, you can find eggs, vegetables and fruit grown by a local farmer. If you do go to a grocery store try to pick up fruit with a BC Tree Fruits Co-Op label,” said Deol.

In addition to shopping locally, Deol also said that people should be curious about the farming practices that they are supporting.

“Ask your farmers what and how they farm, and support those taking meaningful steps and efforts to grow for their community sustainably.”

TABA will be selling seedlings and fresh produce at the Kelowna Farmers Market and from their farm stand located at 3309 McCulloch Road in East Kelowna. For more information and for updates follow @taba.farms on Instagram.

Jacqueline Gelineau

About the Author: Jacqueline Gelineau

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