The smoke blanketing the southern half of BC over the past week from fires in Washington and Oregon is another blow to apple growers hoping for a good crop in the face of low prices and a labour shortage.
“The sunny days and cool nights we had earlier in the month are what helps the apples finish ripening and develop a good colour,” explains Laurel Van Dam, director of sales for BC Tree Fruits Cooperative. “We need the smoke to go away.”
Hank Markgraf of Hanks Horticulture agrees.
“The crop is of good quality, about where we thought it would be,” he says. “But the heat at the end of August, and now the smoke, is affecting colour development.”
A consistent high red colour is an important factor in growers getting the best price for their apples. They’ll often pick through an orchard twice to select those that colour first and leave others to mature.
“That might end up being three picks for the Galas we are picking right now,” Markgraf says.
The three passes is a problem this year because the industry is very short of pickers.
“There is a shortage of pickers across the industry,” says Van Dam, explaining that fewer SAWP workers and fewer backpackers have arrived in the province.
Apples must also be picked at peak ripeness to hold up in long-term storage and the picking window can often be a matter of days in an orchard block.
“I know that growers are getting together and sharing crews,” adds Van Dam. “But as I tell everyone, we need more pickers. The reality is, if the apples don’t get off the trees they don’t end up in the grocery stores.”