Cherries on the tree.
Cherries were the pits
Ask anyone who grows them and they’ll tell you, cherries did not do well in 2012. Ontario farmers reported crop failures and harvests about half the usual size. The weather was, as usual to blame, with a hard spring frost that killed cherry fruit blossoms. Western weather didn’t give B.C. cherry growers much of a reprieve either.
Glen Lucas, general manager for the BCFGA (BC Fruit Growers Association), says weather, plus a large volume for early season cherries in Washington State made it a tough season for B.C. growers. “We had a very dry finish to the summer, but the early season was very wet and that is hard on cherries.” He adds, “The later season cherries still had periods of rain where they had to get the helicopters out, but the quality improved and it wasn’t as much of a struggle. When we got more distance in time from the big volume that came from Washington, prices came up and stabilized. It didn’t match previous years even for the late season cherries.”
Chris Pollock, marketing manager for BC Tree Fruits agrees the weather and quality had a negative impact on cherries. “Everyone had challenges this year with the rain that affected the entire Pacific Northwest. It affected prices in a negative way because the market had a lot of fruit that was challenged in quality.”
Many customers who purchase cherries at local supermarket found the quality lacking and did not go back for seconds. “It takes quality to get consumers to be repeat customers,” says Pollock. “Because the quality wasn’t there early in the season, the demand at a retail level was not as high and prices dropped.”
The projected cherry harvest for 2012 was estimated at 8 million pounds. Pollock says, “We had anticipated a large crop of cherries this year and we didn’t get it. Total harvest was 5.8 million pounds, down from 6.5 million last year.”
An abundance of apples
Apples were another story in the Okanagan. Early season weather didn’t affect the apple crop, as it was dry and warm near the end of the season. “We got great cool nights so things went well for apples,” reports Lucas. “One risk of early season rain is less pollination – that didn’t happen. We had a good crop and things went well overall throughout the growing season. There was some hail in areas, but overall the crop was up from a normal year by about 10%.”
Lucas says the increase was in part due to larger harvests but also due to larger sized fruit. Then there was the bad weather in the rest of apple growing country in Canada and the U.S.
In a recent interview Brian Gilroy, chairman of the Ontario Apple Growers, says the 80% crop loss now looks more like 90%. In many cases the crop was barely worth harvesting. Of all the apples, Northern Spy fared the best with about 25% to 30% of a normal crop, while Gala, Honey Crisp and Golden Delicious fared better than 10%. “Macs, Empire and Matsui are pretty well non-existent,” he says.
Ontario hasn’t seen an apple season like this since 1945. It was the same story for those in apple country in the U.S.
Growers across the pond didn’t fare much better than Ontario. Throughout the U.K., it was the worst apple yield in 15 years. Adrian Barlow, chief executive of the Growers’ organization says, “It is going to be a tough time not only in the U.K. but across Europe.” Retailers are reducing their specifications and accepting apples with more skin markings than normal and prices are likely to rise.
These lousy weather systems across the Northern Hemisphere gave B.C. an advantage this year. “It was a vacuum out there,” says Lucas. “There was a low crop in Ontario and the U.S. The supply in North America went down so prices went up and quality was great. It was a banner year for B.C. apples in terms of market pricing. It wasn’t a battle to compete against others to get into the market. With apples in short supply the market is actually pulling B.C. apples out of storage to fulfill the need in the North American market.”
Local apple farmers have more than rising prices to celebrate. B.C. apples are also winning awards in record numbers.
“We topped out and won in every category at the National Apple Competition,” says Lucas. “In the category ‘five varieties in a basket’, B.C. placed first, second, and third.
We won grand champion and reserve champion in three categories new variety, heritage variety and commercial variety.”
Devin Jell of Sun-Oka Fruit Farms in Summerland came in first in three of the five new varieties and came in first for Best Collection of Five varieties. Lane and Ryan Mitchell (Mitchell Family Orchard) and Shivinder Gill, (Gill Farm) came in second and third for Best Collection of five varieties.
Although quality and quantity do factor in, programs set up by BC Tree Fruits to sell apples through wholesalers and retailers that have made 2012 a great year for B.C. apples
“Our MacIntosh crop this year was fantastic,” gushes Pollock. “It was all positive. The weather was perfect and with all the sun in August and September it was great. The temperature dropped perfectly at night to get the apples to colour up.”
Pollock says all varieties of apples were over the estimated amounts in 2012. “Ambrosia, Honey Crisp, Golden, Fuji, Nicola, MacIntosh, Royal Gala, Spartan and Sunrise were all over our original grower estimates in bins. Everything else came in right on track.”
Total apples harvested in 2012 was 222,000 bins, compared to the 209,000 bins they predicted. That’s 178 million pounds of delicious B.C. apples in the marketplace.
Soft Fruits weigh in
When you don’t include cherries, soft fruits also did very well for 2012.
“Peaches was the exact same as last year,” says Pollock, “at just under 3.1 million pounds received. The quality was good this year as well. Nectarines were good, a little under in crop size at 575,000 pounds received. We were over on prunes and plums with just over 1.1 million pounds received and apricots were up from last year and just a little under our grower estimate at 212,000 pounds. Andrew, Bartlett and Bosc pears were estimated at 5,500 bins and we received the same.”
According to Pollock the majority of B.C. fruits harvested this year will stay in Western Canada, but, he says, “The challenges in Eastern Canada opened up more opportunities for us.” He adds, “We do build programs with certain countries like Vietnam with Ambrosia and Galas. We are continuing to build programs with export marketplaces to sell them fruit.” ■
**Note: BC Tree Fruits represents 580 of 800 fruit growers in the Okanagan. Total above are for those 580 farmers only.