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Apple industry in ‘meltdown mode,’ says growers’ group

Thursday, February 11th, 2010 | 1:33 pm

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Joe Sardinha, president of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association will meet with Kelowna growers tonight

By Kathy Michaels

Fruit growers will hold an emergency meeting in Kelowna tonight to discuss what’s being called an industry crisis.

“It’s to do with the apple market specifically — it’s in a meltdown mode,” said Joe Sardinha, president of the BC Fruit Growers Association.

“The first apple payment came, and it’s a shocker to say the least.”

Generally apple growers get an advance mid-year to float them through until mid January when they get the remaining proceeds from their product. Cheques came a bit late this year, but that extra time didn’t amount to any extra cash. That’s especially unfortunate considering how badly apple growers were already struggling.

“We didn’t have a terrific year in ‘08, there were weather challenges — hail, a cold spring and small apples — then in 2009 we thought we were in shape to see a rebound,” he said.

A healthy batch of apples didn’t amount to much, though. Market forces had their way with growers this time around, as a record high dollar and poor economy ate away profits, delivering what Sardinha called a “double whammy.”

“Some are concerned, and rightly so, that you can’t grow quality fruit if you can’t afford the resources to do so,” he said, adding that he couldn’t quantify how much has been lost on a person-by-person basis.

So, what’s next?

Tonight growers will discuss ways to access government  programs that will help them ride out the next season.

“The federal minister was here not too long ago, and he was told our industry needs a special payment,” said Sardinha, noting that when the feds start dishing out money to agriculturalists, they generally have to deliver it across all sectors of the industry.

That could be a stumbling block, but there should be some way to trigger insurance that will offset crop losses of last October when a freeze came through the valley. That killed off about 12 per cent of the total crop, he said.

“What will come out of this meeting is that growers will get a better sense of their options,” he said.

The fruit growers association is tapping into the Federation of Agriculture’s  resources to see if other Canadian farmers have noticed that income shortfalls and losses are not being covered by the programs already in place. They’re also soliciting the help of the National Farm Association.

Where that will lead remains to be seen, though those who attend tonight’s 7 p.m. meeting at the Ramada will have a clearer picture.

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