Good Fruit Grower

July 1

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B.C. fruit growers remain optimistic Despite several unprofitable years, many growers intend to stay in the business. by Terry Edwards pple growers in British Columbia, Canada, con- sider orchard renewal to be a vital component in the survival of their industry, according to a recent survey conducted for the B.C. Fruit Growers' Association. The survey, conducted by the Canadian research firm Ipsos Reid this spring, provides insight into the makeup of the tree fruit industry in terms of types of fruit grown, production and acreage, and intent to replant (an indicator of investment and renewal in the industry), with comparisons between 2005 and 2012. Almost half of the respondents in the latest survey said they would likely replant more tree fruit acreage and 41 percent would replant more apple acreage in the next five years, if there were a program similar to the previously available government-funded replant/removal programs in place. Money for the previous program, which contributed one-third of the cost of replanting, was fully allocated in 2011, and the BCFGA has been vigorously lobbying both the provincial and federal governments to have it restored. The association's research shows that up to one- third of current apple plantings need to be replaced with superior varieties in order to maintain competitiveness. In response to those lobbying efforts, the provincial government announced on May 23 that it is providing B.C. apple and tree fruit growers with $2 million to help replant low-value orchards with high-demand varieties. The program, which also includes a grafting and bud- ding component, will operate for three years. It will be administered by the BCFGA, in partnership with the B.C. Investment Agriculture Foundation. Agriculture Minister Don McRae, in making the announcement, said, "The replanting program will sup- port B.C.'s apple growers' efforts to meet consumer demand for high-value apples, and lead to expanded markets in and out of the province. "People who are investing money, I think they're here for the long term." —Kirpal Boparai "The funding will help ensure British Columbians have fresh, local foods, while bringing employment and business opportunities throughout the fruit tree value chain." Kirpal Boparai, BCFGA president, said he welcomes Kirpal Boparai the announcement but believes it's not enough for strug- gling producers, many of whom have lost money for the last four years. "The replant program is very, very important, and I think it should be continued for the next ten or fifteen years, not one or two years," he said. "Two million dollars doesn't go very far when you've got $300 million coming into the valley, and that's what the fruit industry provides. It does show the government is interested, but we need to be committed for a longer term than that." He said the program is needed to replenish land that has become vacant in recent years as well as to replace old plantings. The survey revealed that 15 percent of the 150 growers questioned intend to increase their acreage of apples in the next five years, despite recent diminish- ing returns, while 6 percent plan to downsize. Hard times Boparai said the survey indicates that there is optimism within the sector and a commitment to stick it out even during hard times. "Even with the economic crunch, we're finding people are willing to stay long term," he said. "I think that's due to some of the new generation coming into farm- ing, and they're committed to it. Many of the growers who have fallen off the table are the older generation. "The land prices are quite high right now, so people who are investing money, I think they're here for the long term. That was the surprising part, because we thought because of the economic times, people are going to leave, but it showed that's not true." The average acreage for growing tree fruit among BCFGA members remains unchanged since 2005 at 19 acres. However, there seems to be a polarization of farm sizes, with more growers having either smaller or larger farms this year. Compared with seven years ago, orchards owned by Punjabi growers have generally reduced in size, while those owned by non-Punjabi growers have increased. The survey included an equal number of Punjabi and non-Punjabi participants. Its margin of error is plus or minus 7 percent. Other findings • Apples continue to trump all others as the most com- mon tree fruit grown for sale by BCFGA members. Eighty-two percent of members grow apples, compared with 90 percent in 2005. This is followed in a distant second place by cherries, with 34 percent of growers selling cherries, down from 48 percent in 2005. Other crops grown for sale include peaches (19% of members), pears (13%), prunes (8%), apricots (6%), nectarines (5%), and plums (2%). • Specialization increased between 2005 and 2012. Unchanged from 2005, 48 percent of members solely grow apples for sale. This year, slightly fewer members (34%, compared to 50 in 2005) are growing a combina- tion of apples and other fruit, while an increasing portion (18%, up from 10) are growing other fruit only. • Gala is by far the most popular apple variety grown by BCFGA members. For the 2011 crop year, total average production of Gala was 81,867 pounds, compared to 34,821 of Ambrosia, 24,561 of Spartan, 21,146 of McIntosh, and 17,183 of Red Delicious. • Approximately a quarter of BCFGA members produce Fuji, Golden Delicious, and Granny Smith apples. On average, approximately half an acre is devoted to each of these apple varieties. • Punjabi heritage growers are significantly more likely to grow a variety of tree fruits compared to their non- Punjabi heritage counterparts. Specifically, Punjabi heritage growers are nearly three times more likely to grow cherries, peaches, prunes, nectarines and plums. The BCFGA represents 575 commercial tree fruit grow- ers in British Columbia producing a 2011 farm-gate value of $78.4 million on 14,800 acres, according to Statistics Canada. • 16 JULY 2012 GOOD FRUIT GROWER

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