South Okanagan fruit harvest continuing later than normal amidst other challenges

Fruit harvest continues late

Casey Richardson

The late season for fruit picking in the South Okanagan is one of just a few challenges from this season's harvest, with picks for cherries, peaches and nectarines a couple of weeks past their usual window.

Balpreet Gill, who is the operations manager for Gold Star Fruit Company in Oliver, said that overall the trees are nice and healthy.

“It's been a great year for growing, there hasn't been much stress to begin with,” he added.

Rain and a cooler June initially caused concerns in the valley.

“Generally most fruits are resistant against rain. If there is too much rain and it stays too wet, trees can develop some kind of bacteria and we can develop glue on nectarines, but this year it wasn't too bad.”

Challenges this year did surface from the increased costs of operations, with the high costs of fertilizer and shipping.

“We export a lot of fruit out to Asia. And this year, the cost of shipping a box of cherries is close to $20 for one 11-pound box, whereas it used to be closer to $10-$12. So the shipping rates have gone almost double to fly or be shipped by ocean container. So that's one big challenge for us is to try and justify those prices to our customers.”

Gill said that the inflation costs have pushed back the other way too, driving consumers to choose local produce.

“Whether it's produce such as tomatoes, or peaches and nectarines for canning, everyone I've talked to this year has seen a large influx of locals, whether it's from British Columbia, or Alberta that come in here for a vacation that are buying local to preserve over the winter.”

The canning trend looks to be making a big comeback.

“A lot of people have been supporting us, we've had no issue selling the produce this year. We could not be happier with our customers.”

There will just be a few more days for BC cherries for Gold Star before they are into the heart of freestone peaches and freestone nectarines.

“Ideally now we'd like to see the temperatures to come down a bit, let's the trees shut down because we don't want the trees to be alive and awake when the first frost comes.”

A bigger concern on Gill’s mind is the federal government's 30-per-cent reduction in fertilizer-use goal by 2030.

“A lot of people are scared that once his plan comes into place, it's not going to make a level playing ground. Guys with really rich soil, high nitrogen soil, they'll be fine. People that don't have the type of soil, they won't be able to grow large and high yields,” he said. “They will have to farm more acres to get the same amount of yield. But they might never be able to get that large fruit that everyone wants. “

Nitrogen fertilizer is considered a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

“The big concern for the industry right now is will the farmers be able to control what they put into the ground.”

Once the harvest season finished in the Okanagan, Gill expects that farmers will get involved to voice their opinions with local cooperatives and local unions to get this message to Ottawa.

“Let them know this plan does not work for the BC growers.”

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