Heat impact compounds pressures on B.C. fruit growers who want government support

THE BC Fruit Growers’ Association is expressing support for an AgriRecovery Program to provide government support for heat-impacted commodities. It is reported that the province of BC is considering an AgriRecovery application to help agriculture producers recover from heat damage, while Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan have committed to their matching share of the federal-provincial program.

The summer heat waves of 2021 initiated with the punishing, all time record-setting heat wave of June 28-July 1.

Tree fruit growers are increasingly desperate for financial investment and financial programs by the BC government, following financial setbacks that threaten food security. For apples, the largest tree fruit crop by volume:

* A trade war between the US and China resulted in a $0.07 per pound cash subsidy to US growers, but not in the BC apple sector.

* Retail consolidation has resulted in increasing margins for retailers and reducing margins (often negative) for growers.

* The long term impact of the massive expansion of apple acreage in the US, due to the irrigation water flows provided by the Columbia River Treaty, remains uncompensated.

For cherries, the largest tree fruit crop by revenue:

* Weather disasters in 2019 (rain), 2020 (spring frost), and 2021 (heat) have reduced saleable production.

* An increasing shortage of domestic labour leaves growers unable to harvest the entire cherry crop that remains, even after the reduction in volume due to weather impacts.

“Growing tree fruit has been very challenging the past few years. Our growers support food security and the Agricultural Land Reserve and we would naturally like to see the same level of commitment from the BC government,” said Pinder Dhaliwal, President of the BC Fruit Growers’ Association.

In the short-term, AgriRecovery funding could assist with the following initiatives to reduce financial risk and aid recovery in the apple and cherry sectors:

* Assistance with disease and nutrient sprays and application costs for fireblight, mildew, and canker, as well as nutrient sprays – heat-stressed trees are weakened and more susceptible to disease (Estimated compensation: $5.8 million).

* Increasing the storage and delivery capacity of community/regional government irrigation infrastructure to prepare for new heat extremes in future years. Additional water availability is needed for recovery and future protection of trees from excessive heat (e.g., $1 million per city purveyor for planning and short term infrastructure improvements).

* Testing and analysis costs to assess fruit quality pre-harvest. For example, the purchase of internal quality meters for field staff and five major packinghouses (approximately $300,000)

* Assistance to remove damaged apples from storages and diversion to juice, to eliminate or minimize shrinkage and product returns ( $.25/lb = $12.5 million).

BC’s interior tree fruit industry represents 800 growers operating orchards that generate $118 million in wholesale revenue and contribute $776 million in economic activity.