Difficult year for Okanagan fruit growers

Weather factors reduce fruit profit margins

After a decade of being involved in the executive of the BC Fruit Growers Association, Fred Steele will step away from the industry political fray this week.

A successor for Steele will be elected Friday in Kelowna at the annual BCFGA convention.

“I’m getting right out of it,” Steele said of the fruit growing business. “I’m not sure totally yet what I will be doing with my time, but I’ll probably do some consulting work going forward.”

In his final message to BCFGA members this week, Steele will bring the typical farmer’s perspective, the potential for the future looks promising but the weather remains an uncontrollable catalyst on crop quality, a key characteristic that Okanagan fruit growers rely on to expand export markets abroad.

The average returns for growers were down significantly in 2017, according to the BCFGA, with the hope government subsidy assistance to off-set lower profit margins is forthcoming from the AgriStability program.

Recent: Two candidates seek to replace Steele

Steele blamed what he described as “a rough year” for growers on excessive plus 30 Celsius heat in the summer and a cold, wet spring.

“When you get a couple of days of excessive heat, the fruit tree shuts down to preserve itself and that impacts the maturity of the fruit. We don’t get the consistency of size our market buyers are looking for and that becomes an issue,” he said.

“And the wet spring was terrible for pollination and getting the fruit off to a positive start in the first place.”

Steele says local growers can take some solace in that neighbouring Washington state fruit growers encountered the same weather and fruit maturity issues.

“Both Victoria and Ottawa have made it quite clear there will be no major infusion of cash for growers going forward. There were some rumours floating around of growers getting five cents a pound for subsidization but that’s just political hype,” he said.

“The AgriStability Fund can help off-set some of the profit margin differences. It won’t cover the difference lost but it’s a whole lot better than nothing.”

Recent: Agriculture minister meets with Okanagan industry leaders

Along with fluctuating profit margins, the impact of minimum wage increases, with wages accounting for 40 to 60 per cent of fruit farming costs, are also a concern for orchardists, noted Steele.

Minimum wage goes up to $12.65 as of June 1, 2018, and will escalate annually until reaching the level of $15.20 as of June 1, 2021.

Steele says for a commodity industry like fruit production, it is virtually impossible to pass those costs off in what is already a volatile price market.

“For a typical small business, they can pass that cost to consumers by product pricing. But for fruit growers selling a commodity, we can’t do that. We can only sell for what the market will bear, so that is a big stumbling block for us,” Steele said.

Steele said the solution is growing quality fruit and the right size that market buyers want, particularly concerning off-shore markets.

In recent years, the Okanagan fruit industry has made headway in East Asia markets such as China and South Korea, and Steele says those efforts must continue.

Steele noted that future airport expansion plans will play a factor in boosting export potential.

“The golf course south of the airport has been purchased by the city with the long-term plan to extend that runway. When that happens, we’ll have cherries and apples flying out of here every day bound for Asian markets,” he said.

Steele said fruit growers are also looking for government to clamp down on agricultural land buyers who purchase productive farmland to build large houses with a minimal $2,500 farm-related revenue annually to qualify for reduced property tax rates.

“With the BCFGA, our minimal revenue rate is $15,000 in order to be part of our association. The $2,500 figure was a lot back in 1973 when it was set but it’s not now. That has to change.

“Rather than seeing 50 acres of lawn, we’d rather see growers have access to ALR land that is currently not productive.”

The BCFGA convention takes place Thursday and Friday at the Coast Capri Hotel in Kelowna. Among the keynote speakers will be Kelowna-Lake Country MP Stephen Fuhr (11:45 a.m. on Friday) and B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham (1 p.m., Friday).

To report a typo, email: edit@kelownacapnews.com.


@BarryGerding
barry.gerding@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Summer arrives at Big White Ski Resort

Hiking, bike trails, restaurants and more are open as of July 10

COVID-19 cases identified in Kelowna, after public gatherings

Those who were downtown or at the waterfront from June 25 to July 6 maybe have been exposed to COVID-19.

Pianos return to Kelowna parks

The Pianos in Parks program was postponed amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Certain crimes increased in Peachland during pandemic

Theft from vehicles, vehicle incidents, and break and enters have increased during the pandemic

UPDATE: YouTubers claim to be Kelowna display toilet ‘poopers’

RCMP can not speak to legitimacy of video, will be investigating

B.C. sees 25 new COVID-19 cases, community exposure tracked

One death, outbreaks remain in two long-term care facilities

COVID-19: Homeless to be relocated from temporary Okanagan shelter

Homeless shelters in Vernon have been combined into one site at the curling rink since April

Dozens of fish die at popular lake near Chase

A few natural phenomena are possible causes for their deaths.

BREAKING: Amber Alert for two Quebec girls cancelled after bodies found

Romy Carpentier, 6, Norah Carpentier, 11, and their father, Martin Carpentier, missing since Wednesday

B.C. man prepares to be first to receive double-hand transplant in Canada

After the surgery, transplant patients face a long recovery

Grocers appear before MPs to explain decision to cut pandemic pay

Executives from three of Canada’s largest grocery chains have defended their decision to end temporary wage increases

Bringing support to Indigenous students and communities, while fulfilling a dream

Mitacs is a nonprofit organization that operates research and training programs

RCMP ‘disappointed’ by talk that race a factor in quiet Rideau Hall arrest

Corey Hurren, who is from Manitoba, is facing 22 charges

NHL’s Canadian hubs offer little economic benefit, but morale boost is valuable: experts

Games are slated to start Aug. 1 with six Canadian teams qualifying for the 24-team resumption of play

Most Read