“In Search of Solutions for Okanagan Apple Growers
The last couple of years have been absolutely challenging for Okanagan apple growers. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the intense heat dome, and the fierce competition from American fruit growers, the last few seasons have left the industry reeling. But the BC Fruit Growers’ Association has a plan.
The Plan to Rebound
“We want to return to the growth, and make sure our iconic apple sector remains here and remains part of our economy,” remarked BC Fruit Growers’ Association (BCFGA) general manager, Glen Lucas. The association received government funding to engage an independent consultant who has presented three viable suggestions to help the industry rebound and thrive once again.
First, gathering necessary data to drive informed decisions is imperative. Secondly, ensuring quality standards are established and audited is a crucial quality control measure. Lastly, deploying a robust promotional program to encourage buyers to choose B.C. apples is essential. “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,” said Lucas.
The Crucial January Meeting
In January, the BCFGA will convene workshops and discussions with local growers to explore the consultant’s suggestions further to determine the next steps for the industry. “Maybe it’s not right on, maybe we need to modify it a bit,” said Lucas, emphasizing the importance of open dialogue and collaboration.
Apple grower and BCFGA vice-president Sukhdeep Brar highlighted the urgency for change. “A lot of the growers are in a downward spiral,” Brar lamented, “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.”
The Looming Crisis
Brar cites the looming collapse of the entire apple sector if drastic changes are not implemented soon. “Worst case scenario, is that there’s no apples in the Okanagan anymore,” Brar grimly emphasized.
Brar, however, remains hopeful that the new marketing approach put forth by the BCFGA can help reinvigorate the industry and lead consumers to support local growers. “I think we grow some of the best apples in the world,” Brar added.
Hurdles to Overcome
According to a new report from the BCFGA, the pome fruit acreage (apples and pears) in B.C. has dwindled from a peak of 8,500 in 2011 to 7,200 acres in 2021. Apple sales are failing to keep up with growers’ increased cost of production.
Consultations and Public Feedback
Apart from the January gathering, growing and packers will be consulted through meetings, surveys, and direct feedback over the next several months to formulate a comprehensive and inclusive reform plan for the industry.
The uncertain future of the Okanagan apple sector has put local growers at a crossroads. The decisions in the coming months will shape the industry’s future, from both an economic and cultural standpoint. It’s crucial to support local growers and incentivize consumers to choose B.C. apples. By doing so, we can help a once-thriving industry regain its momentum and continue to contribute significantly to the local economy.”