Georgia peaches headed to Okanagan, Lower Mainland fruit stands

Click to play video: 'B.C. importing stone fruit from U.S. after devastating crop loss'
B.C. importing stone fruit from U.S. after devastating crop loss
WATCH: While shopping for stone fruits this summer, British Columbians will notice peaches coming from Georgia. B.C. producers are having to import some produce this year after a severe cold snap in January essentially wiped out many crops. Travis Prasad looks at how the industry is adapting – Jun 18, 2024

Okanagan peaches, nectarines and apricots aren’t just in short supply; there are none to be had.

A bitter cold snap in January, which saw temperatures plunge to -28 C for a couple of days, killed off nearly all Okanagan stone fruits.

That’s left farmers, fruit stands and B.C. markets, which are usually laden with locally grown goods, in an unfamiliar position.

“We’re branching into some of the places that grow peaches really well,” said Jennay Oliver, owner of Paynters Market in West Kelowna.

“We’re bringing some fruits from the States, which is really hard for me because we only sell B.C. products.”

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Okanagan cherry growers predicting drastic reduction in 2024 crop

Her first crop of foreign peaches is from Georgia. The Paynters will also be importing peaches from Washington for their fruit stand.

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Other markets throughout the Okanagan and Lower Mainland will be doing the same.

Oliver hung a sign at the front of her store, like many others in the same position, explaining the situation at hand and the reception has been pretty good.

“People have been leaning into it, and they just want good food. And this is good food,” she said, noting that they are delicious. “So they’re accepting it and we’re all moving on.”

Selling U.S. fruit, however, is something that’s understandably disconcerting to Oliver, a fourth-generation farmer.

Her family planted its first orchard in West Kelowna in 1919 and their first fruit stand opened in 1951.

Focusing on locally grown goods is part of their DNA, and that may be where she finds optimism to carry on.

“I know my grandparents have seen winters like this before,” she said.

“(They have) stories of the winter of 1949, 1950 where they lost 2,000 peach trees, so I feel lucky that I haven’t lost 2,000 trees … maybe only a few hundred.”

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More help announced for B.C. fruit growers

For others, the loss is greater.

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Deep Brar, the vice president of the BC Fruit Growers Association, said he’s lost 15 acres of peaches, with one exception.

“I saw one blossom and it’s got to be the most famous blossom in the whole valley because there was only a few of them around,” Brar said.

In all, Brar said area orchardists have lost $500 million.

“When you look at packing and then the trucks that truck and all that fruit to the coast … if we combined it all together, it’s a big, big loss for us,” he said.

“And to think that can happen within 48 hours is crazy.”

Adaptation, Oliver says, will be the key to making it through this season.

“We grow over 100 different types of varieties of fruit and vegetables. So we just planted four times the amount of watermelons and we’re really leaning into our field crops,” Oliver said.

“We’ve got zucchinis, tomatoes, and a hundred other things that we can redirect our focus on and spend more time harvesting.”

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To highlight the level of adaptation she’s embracing, Oliver pointed to a barren peach tree that is now going to be used as a trellising system for gourds planted at their base.

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“This has been really hard to walk through and see all these dead branches and dead trees,” she said.

But, not far from view, there’s a row of baby trees that have also been really doing well.

“So every time I actually walk through here, I look over there, and I see the future, and it’s going to be great.”

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