Fruit farmers in the Creston Valley are feeling the strain of the summer heatwave in more ways than one.
Acres upon acres of fruit have been left unpicked on the trees due to damage from the hot and dry conditions.
Through marketer Global Fruit, many cherries grown locally are exported to other countries like China and the United Kingdom. All the cherries are graded and hydro-cooled immediately prior to packaging to ensure the highest quality and freshness.
Two weeks ago, pickers were getting to work and Kiran Sandhu, owner of 60-acre Marar Orchard, believed there was a successful season ahead. However, the first samples inspected by Global Fruit came back with alarming results.
In under three days on the shelf, the cherries were shrivelled up and dimpled like golf balls from heat stress.
“A normal person cannot tell, and they’ll think we have beautiful cherries,” said Sandhu. “But, we can only sell so much locally. We mostly rely on exports.”
Sandhu’s 20 acres of vegetables also suffered, leaving her fruit stand virtually void of products.
“All of my cauliflower is bitter,” she said. “Same with all of my peas and beans. We’ve got nothing.”
Since she began working as a farmer in 1995, Sandhu said she has never experienced such a massive loss. She estimates a $7,000 to $10,000 loss per acre.
The pickers who have returned to Marar Orchard year after year from Quebec have also been left out of work.
“I’ve never left fruit on the tree,” said Sandhu. “We’re just worrying about how everyone is going to survive. Every night, we almost cry. How are they going to feed their family? How are they going to pay their expenses? I wish we could do something.”
Kootenay politicians react
On July 30, two local government officials joined Global Fruit to tour 10 orchards in the Creston Valley to speak to the farmers and see the conditions of the crops firsthand.
“With climate change, the risks of this happening in the future are even greater,” said Nelson-Creston MLA Brittny Anderson.
She added that Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham is planning a roundtable with farmers to discuss the issues and find out what can be done to help.
“We need to step up and make sure we are supporting these farmers. Some of them are covered by AgriStability, but not all. I know the minister is acutely aware of this situation and will be wanting to work with these farmers to do what we can to support them.”
Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison said it was very emotional to speak to the farmers who are now facing financial hardship.
“It’s devastating to lose 100 per cent of your crops,” he said. “There’s nothing they could have done. It’s not like there’s something they could have sprayed or something they could do differently with the trees. A lot of them are going to lose their farms, and they need financial assistance now.”