‘I could cry’: Millions of apples rotting in Okanagan orchards

Click to play video: 'Millions of apples spoiling in Okanagan orchards' Millions of apples spoiling in Okanagan orchards
WATCH: Apple growers have faced a rough year between a lack of temporary foreign workers to pick fruit because of COVID-19 and then an early cold snap. Jules Knox reports. – Oct 28, 2020

The ground of some orchards in East Kelowna is blanketed by soon-to-be-spoiled apples.

“I could cry,” apple grower Julius Kish said. “People are hungry, and it’s so much waste.”

In 50 years of farming, Kish said he’s never seen a worse growing season.

It started in the spring with hail and too much rain.

Read more: Okanagan apple farmers shed light on returns

Apple growers then struggled to find fruit pickers because the COVID-19 pandemic brought about a shortage of temporary foreign workers to tend the crops, Kish said.

“I only had three people the whole summer working for me. Can’t get any local people,” he said.

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Kish is frustrated that his apples were left to rot because of a lack of fruit pickers, while many Canadians were sitting at home collecting $2,000 a month through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), he says.

The labour shortage was then followed by a record-breaking snowfall and the earliest cold snap Kish can remember seeing in his half-century of growing.

Read more: Okanagan snowstorm breaks 120-year-old record for most snow in October

BC Tree Fruits director Amarjit Singh Lalli estimated that the cold snap froze at least 20,000 bins of apples, which works out to about 16 million pounds or more than seven million kilograms.

Some apple orchardists will be out tens of thousands of dollars, he added.

“What will probably end up happening is the growers will not see a penny in insurance,” he said. “And that’s due to the fact that what ends up happening is the insurance companies are pooling all the money together.”

“So if you’ve got cherries or other varieties, crops other than apples, they pool it all together. And if your income drops a certain percentage, then it kicks in,” he said. “And the growers have diversified to protect themselves.”

Read more: ‘Real threat to food security’: pandemic blamed for drop in Okanagan’s fruit production

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Lalli is calling on the province to step in.

“Growers need help. Seven cents a pound would be a great starting point,” he said.

In an email, the province said that it is still in a period where it cannot comment on any requests for new funding because of the election.

However, the agriculture ministry also said that it does have a program in place to help tree fruit growers diversify, and that ministry staff will work with producers to get claims processed for lost or severely damaged crops.

Click to play video: 'Okanagan orchardist giving away apples for free' Okanagan orchardist giving away apples for free
Okanagan orchardist giving away apples for free – Oct 13, 2020

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