While new B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s focus has been on families, that message isn’t resonating with local fruit growers.
Joe Sardinha, president of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association, says local orchardists have families too—and they’re hurting right now.
Sardinha is urging consumers to be farm families’ allies and purchase locally-grown products when they shop for food for their families.
It’s part of a promotion the BCFGA has launched to remind the general public of what makes this valley’s economy tick, and what it might look like without agriculture.
Significant losses in the past three years have left apple growers in a very difficult position.
Many have mortgages on their orchards, but with global apple prices so low, they’re not making enough income to keep up the payments.
Sardinha points out there are 15 orchards up for sale in Kelowna alone right now, and two of those are bank-forced sales as a result of losses in the marketplace and an inability to meet their mortgage commitments.
“Basically, it’s a lack of income,” he said.
Newcomers to the industry are generally in the worst situation because they hold larger mortgages, he added.
He said he knows of one grower who is looking at cashing in his RRSPs to keep his farm operating, even though that will leave him without a pension income in the coming years. “It’s negative net farming income,” said Sardinha.
As well, those who have given up farming and leased out the orchard, are finding those lessees are simply dropping the leases because they’re not making any money and that leaves them with the farm again.
In the case of absentee owners, that means the orchard could become derelict.
In the coming weeks, growers will be appealing to the community to support them by both purchasing local fruit, and by lobbying the provincial government to help develop solutions to the recent challenges faced by the orchard industry.
That campaign includes a Facebook page called the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association where users can learn more about agriculture and the tree fruit industry, and provide feedback.
Growers are locked into an Agricultural Land Reserve which they are required to maintain for the benefit of all, yet they are not currently making a living doing so, he pointed out.
Sardinha said they are in discussions with the province for long-term support for the industry, which he estimates has an economic impact of $300 million in the province, not including that of Sun-Rype Products Ltd.
Those talks are now into Phase II, with meetings scheduled for next involving board members from the BCFGA and the B.C. Tree Fruit Co-operative, and Agriculture Minister Don McRae, said Sardinha.
He said his association will request assistance with production insurance as well as with orchard replant or deer fencing.
During Phase I, industry managers met with the assistant deputy ministers for background on the industry’s competitive position and to establish a starting point. “The past three years has left the industry at serious risk,” said Sardinha.
There are an estimated 850 growers remaining in the industry.