Local orchardists not suffering from cool spring

Orchards in the Okanagan are a week behind schedule

Wet and wild spring weather didn’t hurt Okanagan fruit growers.

Fred Steele, president of the BC Fruit Grower Association, said the cool weather has left local farmers just a week or two behind their usual growing schedule, with blossoms having fallen off local apple trees, and fruits starting to bud.

As for predictions on whether it will be a bountiful season, Steele said it’s too early to know.

The only thing farmers can rely on, he said, is that they will have to adapt and they will have to have a good sense of humour.

“Either there’s too much rain, or not enough or there’s something else,” he said. “The unexpected is the norm.

“We have had some pretty good years in the last five years and that’s because farmers adapted.”

The 2016 Census of Agriculture was recently released and Steele said the data shared reflected the positive gains the local industry has made in recent years.

For example, farmers in the Okanagan Kootenay region grew acreages by five per cent over five years.

Farm gate sales are up 50 per cent and the economic value of goods generated out of the region rose from $552 million to $776 million.

“Farmers have adapted to the conditions and they’ve found new ways to grow and new technologies,” said Steele.

Among the adaptations being lauded for putting the industry in a position to grow was the replant program, which saw high density producing apple trees replace older varieties. The changes have led to a changed landscape, too.

“Now we see apple orchards where hay fields were,” he said.

Steele said another thing that’s changed both locally and across Canada is the size of the farms in the valley.

The data counted 193,492 farms across the country, down from 205,730 farms recorded in the 2011 census.

The average size of a Canadian farm in 2016 was 820 acres, compared to 779 acres in 2011.

The highest number of Canadian farms per size are between 10 and 69 acres, with 32,036 falling into that category.

And another 9,089 farms are 3,520 acres or larger.

Total farm area is measured at 158.7 million acres, with 93.4 million acres used for crops.

“We have fewer farmers and larger farms,” he said.