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Photo by Kim Lawton/DogLegMarketing.ca
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By Kirstin Wakal
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By Andrea Walker
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By Andrea Walker
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Photo by Kim Lawton/DogLegMarketing.ca
Cherry trees in Keremeos
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Apples in Summerland
This year’s Fruit Fashion Darlings
Looking at the numbers is one thing, but what really happened with fruit crops this year? It’s important to review the highs and lows of yields, pests, weather and processing, but in this overview, Orchard & Vine takes a tongue-in-cheek perspective as we consider the facts, but also make a comparison: If this year’s crops were clothing, what would they be? A tried and true Jockey brand T-shirt or a fancy ball gown by Christian Dior?
The Berry Bounty
While weather didn’t rain on the fashion parade this year as it has in the past, there were certainly a number of runway glitches from pests to processing in the world of berries. Always in style, berries saw acreages continue to shift, yet it was hard for anything to match the popularity of the sun’s longstanding presence.
Here’s how the fashion of berries took shape:
The overall 2014 B.C. blueberry crop is estimated at about 150 million pounds according to Debbie Etsell, executive director of the B.C. Blueberry Council. This is a significant increase over last year’s crop of 107 million pounds with a lot of sunny weather later in the season and a lot of new plantings over the past several years.
With a few ups and downs in the season, the popular berry touted for its high doses of antioxidants hit the marketplace in the same way go go boots became part of every girl and woman’s outfit in the 1960s. Just as brightly coloured boots were found everywhere back then, so too were blueberries everywhere this year.
The Duke variety was the heaviest producer with Elliots also in heavy production.
“Some great weather for the Duke crop and some wet weather for the beginning of bluecrop, then better on the second half of bluecrop,” Etsell noted. “The increase [in production] is due to a combination of pretty good weather for most of the season and new plantings over the last four to six years that are coming into higher production.”
Labour was a challenge with the increase in volume of Duke and faster ripening of bluecrop hitting at the same time due to the warm sunny weather. The processing and packaging facilities within the industry were put to the test with the increase in production by managed to shine like the rock band Kiss performing in platform boots.
“The volume and quality of IQF Grade A berries this year is fantastic,” Etsell said.
Due to the large percentage of farmers growing cranberries under the Ocean Spray umbrella, cranberries can be seen as private label clothing that comes out a little later than hoped, but with better results than expected given the issues.
Grower, Jack DeWit of Creekside Cranberries in Langley weighed in on how the season was shaping up at the time of writing, just before final harvest.
“It [harvest] seems a little later than usual,” DeWit noted. “Some varieties are slower to ripen than usual.”
DeWit noted the 70 acres he and his two sons own and farm incurred a “fair bit” of winter damage and that other cranberry farmers found the same, much like a run in the weave of the perfect designer fabric.
“There’s not a definite reason yet why it [the winter damage] is in some fields and some it isn’t.”
The yield is not expected to be up for the province-wide harvest, but as growers waited for the berries to colour, it wasn’t sure if production would be the same as last year’s 85 million pounds or down. The June rain may have impacted pollination.
“The unseasonably warm fall makes things later,” DeWit said. “We had a terrific summer, weather was good. In that way it was ideal, but it’s probably four or five degrees warmer at night than it usually is at this time of year.”
Cranberries need a few nights of cooler temperature in order to fully ripen, but this must happen prior to frost or the berries will turn to mush.
Strawberries were similar to a Chanel gown in that they were exquisite, but slightly harder to find than some of their berry counterparts based on information provided by Sharmin Gamiet, association manager of the BC Strawberry Growers Association as well as the executive director of BC Raspberry Growers
“The 2014 growing season was perfect for berries,” Gamiet said.
The traditional June bearing strawberry yield was early, short and of excellent quality, however, with the shift away from June bearing in favour of everbearing, province-wide yield is expected to be the same or down from last year. While the yield of individual growers was the same or up, the overall amount of June berries sent for processing was also down due, interestingly, to the early warm weather.
“A lot of the berries were sold as fresh rather than process,” noted Gamiet.
Unfortunately what made for early June bearing berries hampered everbearing berries given the flower development’s distaste for too much heat, just like a suit jacket on a summer day.
“But, there were enough periods during the summer and fall where the weather was perfect for everbearing strawberries, so the yields should come out as similar to last year,” Gamiet summarized.
Like cranberries, raspberries also experienced a fair amount of winter damage in fields throughout the Fraser Valley. Fortunately, “the perfect spring”, as Gamiet described it, gave raspberry canes the ability to bounce back and “pollination was fabulous, so flower development was excellent.”
“With the continued dry warm and then hot weather, fruit developed excellently,” noted Gamiet. “2014 will go down as the year when raspberry quality was one of the best in history.”
Somewhat like Lulu Lemon yoga pants, high-quality, desirable berries were abundant and everyone loved them.
There was a glitch. One of the former packing houses closed, leading to apprehension that not all the berries would find a home.
“However, in true farming spirit, all packers and processors pulled together and took all raspberries that were harvested,” Gamiet said.
Despite raspberry acreage being down, with the switch of some growers to blueberries in previous years, the yield for 2014 is expected to be similar to that of 2013 at about 16 million pounds.
In an effort to better understand the successes and challenges of fruit growers, Orchard & Vine launched its very first fruit growers’ survey. Among the respondents, 50 per cent were apple growers giving excellent insight into the year’s results.
From the responses, it was obvious that yield was up from last year, though the weather did its best to put a damper on things. For some growers, that meant the fruit was too damaged to salvage and pushed some growers’ individual yields down below previous years’ results much like buying the perfect outfit only to have it ruined the first time it’s worn.
“I had color I had size and nice fruit unfortunately it was also seriously hit with hail,” noted a grower from near Kelowna who responded to the survey.
Another grower from the Oliver area also commented on the challenges of hail during apple ripening.
Fortunately for those who experienced losses as a result of hail crop insurance will kick in and help supplement the lost income – it’s a shame there isn’t similar insurance when someone spills red wine on summer linen pants.
Overwhelmingly, apple growers reported “field issues”, which includes weather and pests, as their biggest challenge this year but it couldn’t change the fact that it was a banner year for apples, causing Orchard & Vine to dub them as similar to Gap brand clothing – high quality and in abundant supply.
According to Fred Steele, president with the B.C. Fruit Growers Association, it was a sizable crop on both sides of the border, leading to questions of how to better control importation.
“For most of them [apple growers] it was a bumper crop,” Steele noted. “Good size, great colour, excellent quality. The United States also had drastically more [apples], with some saying it could be about 165 million boxes [out of Washington] which is going to cause a problem.”
While great yield years are what everyone hopes for, when growers south of the border also have a great year, it challenges the market for B.C. grown apples. Steele noted it’s time to do something different and look at strategic markets to combat the reduction in apple markets. Think of it as similar to knock-off clothing entering the fashion marketplace.
While there is the ability to define B.C.-grown by controlled varieties, this type of system takes years to develop as seen with the Ambrosia. While the Ambrosia variety is grown in the United States, the acreage is limited and importation is not permitted. Steele noted that new varieties are definitely “coming online.”
“If they [Washington and other US growers] sell it [their apples] here at less than the cost of production… then we can take action,” Steele said. “It’s called anti-dumping.”
Steele has already started the process by taking the preliminary steps through the Canadian Horticulture Council. Monitoring of US imports will begin. Cherries are also considered part of the plan with preliminary steps being considered for next summer.
This action may lead to a national tribunal and five years of protection, but this doesn’t come without its own cost. Taking the case to tribunal is expensive, but Steele feels that spreading the cost across the country will benefit everyone.
“We can’t sit idly by,” he said. “At least something is happening.”
While some apple farmers experienced hail, Steele noted this was the case of a number of isolated incidents and weather, which is always of concern, is unpredictable. Just as some growers had hail to contend with, others had sun scorch impact their crops. There were no new pests of note and no mass infestations province-wide.
“Not that we know of yet,” Steele said of new pests, pointing to the fact that pests which take hold one year aren’t seen as pests until further down the road when they become an infestation.
Although growers recognize each variety has its own unique problems and concerns to manage, overall, apples had a very positive year given the varieties that had been picked at the time of writing. Picking is still underway with some Fujis and Pink Ladies still being harvested, but estimates of province-wide apple yield continue to grow.
Original estimates for the season were 165,000 bins (each bin holds approximately 25 boxes, making for 4,125,000 boxes), which Steele said grew to 175,000 to 185,000, but now sits in the neighbourhood of 220,000 bins (5,500,000 boxes). It is indeed a banner year for apples.
Soft fruits in fashion
Similar to apples, cherries and other soft tree fruits were overwhelmingly high in yield. In the Orchard & Vine survey, one grower noted, “Everything was great. Picking was hectic but only because the crop was so big.”
Steele confirmed this by saying, “It was a most unusual year in that we had more cherries, apricots, plums, nectarines than usual. More of everything and we had size.”
Again, the Washington growers had a similar year as did Ontario, leading to further conversations about new varieties.
Steele pointed to the work of Summerland Varieties for their research and development.
“We really need to talk more about emerging varieties. It’s incredible the job those people [at Summerland Varieties] do,” Steele said.
While crops were abundant, there were times when it may have felt like it was too much of a good thing.
“There was too much good fruit,” noted Steele. “Too much great fruit.”
It was a good problem for growers for the most part.
A shortage of storage, bins, workers and basic harvesting tools left many growers scrambling, but happily so. In the end, almost everyone was able to come together to ensure harvests were completed and fruit found markets.
As noted, cherry growers had a positive year as well, with a strong market, good quality fruit despite what one respondent to the survey called “far from perfect weather”.
Grower David Green noted fruit was, “generally good quality, though hail and rain storms affected the crop in some regions.”
Green described the season as average, with it not being a “record breaker”, but certainly not down from expectations. Part of the production positives may be related to the possible drop in the spotted wing drosophila (SWD) Green noted.
“SWD seemed less prevalent than it was in 2013,” he said. “A slightly colder winter in 2013/2014 may have knocked levels back.”
Steele has also heard that the SWD levels were lower and this begged the question of what those lower levels were caused by.
“Does it mean they are cyclical?” Steele mused. “Or did it mean they [growers] did something different? Is it weather related? We don’t know.”
All in all tree fruit growers had an excellent, albeit definitely unusual year, with all fruit varieties up in yield, with great colour, excellent flavor, positive firmness and all around high quality.
It’s so much more than most of us can say about our wardrobes.
And more about the survey…
As mentioned in the Apples Recap, Orchard & Vine sent out its first fruit growers’ survey this year to growers of apples, cherries, berries and soft tree fruits. Over 80 per cent of respondents noted their yields were up this year – a great sign for the industry.
The biggest challenges faced by respondents were “in the field: weather, bugs, pest management pickers, etc.” by more than 50 per cent of respondents while a close 40 per cent noted “internal: hiring staff, staff issues, office operations, licensing, etc.” as the largest concern this year. Replanting was the major planned investment over the next year or two for nearly three-quarters of respondents and 38 per cent of those who answered the survey have a farm gate shop.
If you’d like to be a part of next year’s fruit grower survey, please drop an email to email@example.com and let us know so we can add you to the list. ■
For more survey details go to
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