The past several years have been difficult for Okanagan apple growers – from the COVID-19 pandemic to the heat dome, and competing with American fruit growers — but the BC Fruit Growers’ Association says it has a plan.
“We want to return to the growth, and make sure our iconic apple sector remains here and remains part of our economy,” said BC Fruit Growers’ Association (BCFGA) general manager, Glen Lucas.
The BCFGA received government funding to engage an independent consultant, who has put forth three suggestions to try help the industry rebound.
“Find out that data that we were just talking about, ensure the quality standards are in place and are audited, and thirdly, do a great promotion program,” said Lucas.
“Let people know to buy B.C. apples, and what’s different about them, what’s better about them, we need to get back to that — where people understand what our industry is about.”
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Lucas added that the BCFGA will also be hosting workshops with local growers in January, to discuss the consultants’ suggestions, and determine if it’s the right move for the industry.
“Maybe it’s not right on, maybe we need to modify it a bit, maybe there’s not support to do this, and so we need to find that out, so that we know, is it just continue on the same path or do we want to change the path we’re on,” said Lucas.
One apple grower out of Summerland says if changes are not made soon, the Okanagan is at risk of losing its apple sector entirely.
“A lot of the growers are in a downward spiral, so if you’re not making money, you’re not fertilizing, you’re not spraying, you’re not spending that much attention to your trees as you should be, because you don’t have the money to do it,” said apple grower and BCFGA vice-president, Sukhdeep Brar.
“Worst case scenario, is that there’s no apples in the Okanagan anymore.”
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Brar says he’s hopeful that the new marketing approach can help create a shift in the industry, and lead consumers to think twice about shopping local.
“If an apple grower is making money, the industry can expand easily, we just have a few hurdles we need to get over, and then it can be a thriving industry again,” said Brar.
“I think we grow some of the best apples in the world.”
According to a new report from the BCFGA, pome fruit acreage (apples and pears) in B.C. has declined from a peak of 8,500 in 2011 to 7,200 acres in 2021, as apple sales are not meeting growers’ increased cost of production.
In addition to January’s meeting, growing and packers will be consulted through meetings, surveys, and direct feedback over the next several months.
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