Growers want to replant to new varieties

A survey of growers done this spring shows they want to replant; they are growing older and orchard production has declined.

Results of a March survey of members of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association done by Ipsos Reid showed growers would participate in a program to help them with the costs of replanting to more-marketable varieties of apples.

In fact, more than four in 10 agreed they would increase their overall amount of replanting if there was a replant program available again, similar to the previous program. This was particularly true of apple growers.

BCFGA general manager Glen Lucas commented, “We have been asking the province for such a program to get growers the resources to renew and become economically sustainable. This survey shows the impact that a replant/renewal program would have on growers’ plans to renew.”

The survey also highlighted the production declines and aging growers that are a feature of the industry.

The average age of growers is 55 years, with the largest group in the 45 to 59-year-old age bracket—nearly half of all growers.

Both specialization in particular tree fruits and consolidation of acreages is evident, but there’s been a decline in the amount of production of every tree fruit, including cherries, since a similar survey done in 2005.

About half of the members surveyed grow only apples, similar to the last survey.

Gala apples are the most popular variety grown, at an average production of nearly 82,000 pounds, followed by Ambrosia at nearly 35,000, then Spartans at 24,500; but at least half also grow Ambrosia and Spartan, but in smaller quantities.

There are still 17,000 pounds of Reds being produced.

Ambrosia and Gala are the most popular varieties if growers were to replant apples.

Only four per cent of respondents indicated they have no intention of decreasing production of any apple varieties and 82 per cent didn’t know what varieties might decrease in their operation in the coming five years.

In terms of growers’ intentions, more growers say they intend to stay in the industry for at least the next decade than did in 2005, and fewer are uncertain about their future plans.

BCFGA president Kirpal Boparai found that surprising: “We are in the fourth year of losses in the apple sector, yet there are nine per cent more growers thinking of expanding rather than contracting their apple acreage within the next five years, with 15 per cent likely to increase their acreage of apples and six per cent likely to decrease it.

“There is an indication of the economic pressures on the industry through the continuing consolidation within our industry, as the number of large farms in the survey increased,” he commented.

The survey was conducted between Mar. 12 and 20 this year.

A review of Canadian apple trends completed last year for the federal government, indicates a decrease in acreage and production across the country although apple use is increasing slightly.

Canada’s slice of the global production pie is tiny at .4 million metric tonnes in a total of 71.3 million metric tonnes of 2009 world production. Even the U.S. share is small, at 4.5 million tonnes, while that of China is 31.7 million metric tonnes, an exponential increase since 1990.

That survey concludes that challenges include consolidation at the retail level; more stringent buyer requirements as far as food safety is concerned; high production costs in Canada; competition from more-exotic fruits and processed snacks; increasing production costs and declining apple consumption.

On the other hand, the survey notes that opportunities include increasing orchard productivity; improving consistency of quality; capitalizing on the buy-local trend; brand and relationship-building; new direct sales opportunities and new markets.