Hail Damaged Apples
Apples from the North Okanagan show damage from an early season hail storm.
Chris Pollock, Marketing Manager for BC Tree Fruits, noted farmers didn’t have to endure the extreme rains they had last year; however, 2013 was not without tribulations.
“We had frost and hail in the Vernon area, hail in Summerland, frost in the south and hail in Kelowna and Oliver,” says Pollock. “The good news is, for the apples that did survive, the sizing was huge!”
The volume of apples received by BC Tree Fruits in 2013 was down, not only due to bad weather, but also because some growers have elected to ship their fruit to the United States for packaging.
“All varieties were down in volume,” explained Pollock, “however, it’s proportionate. Gala is the same percentage of the crop as it was in previous years, as are all varieties. The Ambrosia apples were much larger this year, about the same as two years ago. Our McIntosh crop this year is good quality too.”
Last year, BC Tree Fruits sold 3 million cartons to the fresh market and this year they are estimating 2 million cartons. “We have less small fruit this year so it provided some creative stumbling blocks for us,” says Pollock. “We usually put smaller fruit in bags, but if we have less smaller fruit it provides us with some challenges. The larger fruit, which is bulk, went to our larger retail partners. ”
The 2013 market for Okanagan apples is mostly Western Canada. “There is a possibility for some partnerships that may result in some movement to Eastern Canada but our main focus is Western Canada and when we are down the volume that we are, we want to make sure we supply our customers here,” says Pollock. “We still have programs with specific retailers in the United States and other export markets such as South-East Asia for items like McIntosh, Ambrosia and Gala. However, we want to make sure we work with all our Western Canadian retailers first.”
Glen Lucas, BCFGA General Manager concurs it was a great year for quality, if not quantity.
“Early frost and hail did make for a lighter crop this year and it affected different varieties in different locations. We also had a highly unusual early post-blossom hail in the Vernon area that we’d never seen before. It was difficult because many growers were unable to buy their crop insurance because of how early the hail came. Normally crop insurance can’t be purchased until the crop has set. The hail happened at the same time as farmers were preparing to go out and get their hail insurance.”
There were also freak hailstorms in late summer leading up to harvest both in south Kelowna and a couple weeks later in Oliver. “These were highly unusual hails,” says Lucas. “They actually damaged the trees. It was fairly localized, but for the growers it hit, it was devastating.”
BCFGA estimates 160 million pounds of apples will be harvested in 2013, down from 178 million in 2012. This includes all fruits in cartons, independent packers, people who sent their product down to the U.S. for packaging, and culled product.
Staying Ahead of the Competition
Approximately 12 million pounds of apples were sent to the U.S. for packaging that went to the coop in previous years.
As every farmer knows, B.C.’s main competition for apples comes from Washington State.
“The growth in apples in Washington State over the last 30 years has been a major competition for us,” says Lucas. “It pays for us to specialize in Canada. Ambrosia is where we have some protection from Washington State as there is a limited amount of Ambrosia that can be planted there (due to legal restrictions).”
“That protection lasts a few more years so that will be one of the more attractive varieties for B.C. producers. The main opportunity is with Ambrosia; that plus Honey Crisp, Gala and Cripps Pink (Pink Lady) are four main varieties for growth here. In my observation, because Ambrosia has an additional control on it, growers need to take that into account as it being an additional opportunity for them.”
Insurance Changes Needed
The BCFGA’s president, Jeet Dukhia, grows apples and cherries on his farm outside of Vernon. “We got hit with hail in May this year and the few growers that went to get hail insurance before the hail were refused because the fruit wasn’t set yet. Then it hailed and we couldn’t get insurance because our fruit had been damaged,” says Dukhia.
“My neighbours have a new orchard and lost about 40% of their crop. They needed a five-year production record but because they are newly planted, they didn’t have that information. They were wiped out as it severely damaged their trees as well. There were also 200 acres in Oliver that had trees damaged and 700 acres in SE Kelowna where trees were completely destroyed.”
It takes approximately two years to get an orchard back into good condition, which means these farmers will have to wait until 2015 to see any type of return.
“We were expecting 235,000 bins and we are down to 135,000,” says Dukhia, who has approached the agriculture minister and is working on meetings with the crop insurance industry.
“What I’d like to see is (the ability) to get production insurance and hail insurance at the same time,” he explains. “Guys with young trees (under five years) with low production should be able to have someone come out and check the orchard and then get hail insurance based on a visual examination.
"I would like to see other things as well," Dukhia adds.
"For example, if we have 50% damage in the spring, there is no sense to keep spending money on the orchard, so we’d like a write-off point at about 50%.” ■