Apple harvest begins in the Okanagan, with orchardists facing lack of pickers and low prices

Apple picking problems

Orchardists have not had an easy year dealing with extreme weather challenges, lack of workers and produce left unpicked. 

Cherry volume was down for the entire valley, due to the January deep freeze, the early frost and the increase of rain that affected the fruit, according to BC Tree Fruits. Now as cherry season has come to a close and apple picking begins, the struggle for farmers continues. 

“Apples overall had a really good bloom, and the growing season has been pretty good. The average size of apple is going to be a little smaller this year compared to normal” said Laurel Van Dam, director of sales and marketing, for the B.C. Tree Fruits Cooperative.

“The overall tonnage in the valley is projected to be pretty good.”

But the worry is still out there for the growers as the lack of pickers hasn't been fixed.

“Any locals that want to roll up their sleeves and pick some apples and pears for the next few months, the grower base across the entire valley would appreciate that.”

Apple orchardists are hoping to see a good turnout and good return, since their sales don’t yield much profit. 

“Shaping up really good at the moment, good quality and good quantity. Prices are never good, but at least with the Apple Bin we’re selling directly from farm to consumer,” said the owner of Apple Bin, a fruit and vegetable wholesaler in Okanagan Falls.

“Apples in general have been as a commodity a struggle across the industry. Growers need more money for sure. But apples just like cherries and everything, we are dealing with produce as general as a commodity,” Van Dam said.

Even the Okanagan Fruit Tree Project, a local charity that helps harvest fresh produce to share within the community, is facing its own challenges.

“We have way more calls coming in than we can handle,” Casey Hamilton, the executive director of the organization said. 

“Every year we have more and more people reaching out and we have to say, we'll keep your name but we can't do it this year.”

Hamilton’s volunteers can’t get as much picked as quickly as they used to, now that COVID safety measures are in place. 

“We'd have 10 people on one tree if it was really loaded and it would only take us an hour and a half to two hours to harvest, but because of COVID we're having to have less people even at a harvest of one tree.”

The project has seen good funding come in, but is in a need for more. Hamilton mentions they’d be able to arrange more picking if they had more funding to help out.  

“We'll go in 10 to 15 times throughout the season and do about 2000 pounds of apples each day that we're there, but that's not even a dent in the amount of apples that they have on the trees.”

Problems develop for orchardists too if they can’t get their apples off before the season ends. 

“In reality, if the fruit stays on the trees and goes into winter, that's more weight that's hanging on the trees with snow coming down and tends to make a really big mess,” Van Dam said. “It's better for the majority of those apples to be off that tree for sure.”

Anyone interested in helping out this season can check in with orchards or donate to the Okanagan Fruit Tree project.

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