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B.C. fruit shortage predicted as farmers make COVID-19 cuts

B.C. orchardists say they are planting, harvesting less this summer as costs rise and COVID-19 impacts everything from planting to picking
Grocery store fruit
It may be harder to find a B.C.-grown apple or peach this year as B.C. growers cut back to deal with COVID-19 concerns.

Tri-City shoppers may see less B.C. fruit in their grocery aisle and higher prices as the financial uncertainty around COVID-19 hits orchardists.

A survey released by the B.C. Fruit Growers Association suggests the typical summer and autumn harvest will be less robust, with two in three farmers saying they didn’t plant so much this year because of financial worries.

The amount of cutbacks has yet to be finalized but the association’s general manager said the survey indicated farmers are cutting back between 10% and 100% of their crop.

“We anticipate that many agriculture producers, not just tree fruit in the Okanagan, will be impacted. It is a local, provincial and national story,” association general manager Glen Lucas told the Tri-City News in an email.

The pandemic is heightening concerns about food security that were raised in December, 2019 when a joint Dalhousie University and University of Guelph report stated that climate change, alterations in packaging, trade wars and other global factors would hit food prices this year.

The fruit industry was struggling entering the 2020 growing season, according to the association, because apple prices have been so depressed that the cost to produce has been higher than the price farmers receive for their crops.  

Orchardists are also concerned about additional costs associated with following all COVID-related public health guidelines and not being able to find enough hired labour to bring in their crops.

“What is important to recognize is this pandemic has really highlighted the tenuous state of the whole agriculture sector in B.C.,” according to Lucas. “If we don’t start to address some of the structural issues in our industry, food security and the food supply chain are at the mercy of whatever the next natural disaster is to come along.”

To keep growing, farmers say they need help to address costs and securing labour.

However, the press release notes the association appreciates actions and financial supports provide by the Canadian and B.C. governments to date, including help for COVID-emergency related matters and ongoing risk management programs.

While many consumers enjoy a B.C. peach as the epitome of summer, B.C. orchardists contribute a lot to the economy, as well, the association states.

For example, the B.C.’s interior tree fruit industry generates $118 million in wholesale revenue and contributes $776 million in economic activity, according to the press release.