Labour shortage, smoke causing delay in Okanagan apple harvest - InfoNews

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Labour shortage, smoke causing delay in Okanagan apple harvest

September 16, 2020 - 8:12 AM

With a smoky blanket covering the Okanagan for the last week, the Okanagan apple harvest is seeing a delay as pickers take extra breaks and the labour shortage remains high.

Currently, the Okanagan is wrapping up harvesting galas and will be starting ambrosia apple harvesting by the end of the month. McIntosh and spartan apple harvesting will also begin soon, said Pinder Dhaliwal, president of the British Columbia Fruit Growers.

Special weather statements have been issued as smoke from U.S. wildfires has drifted into the Interior for the last week.

READ MORE: Improving smoke levels in Kamloops, Okanagan are only temporary

“The smoke is terrible, it’s hard to be out here,” said Sukhdeep Brar, who grows apples and cherries in Summerland. “We’re not harvesting as much as we can every day as the guys need to take a break and get out of it, but we’re still at the early part of harvest so I’m hopeful it will pass.”

Although they’re not harvesting as many apples, the bigger issue for himself this year has been the lack of pickers. He typically has 18 pickers, but as of now has five.

While he doesn't have as many apples as he does cherries, he said his neighbour will experience a hit because there’s not enough pickers to harvest the fruit in the next two weeks.

Dhaliwal said overall the smoke will likely cause a slight delay in harvesting but the work isn't strenuous.

The smoke will likely cause discoloration with the apples, as a double-edge sword, he said. The smoke helps prevent sunburn on the apples, but also causes a duller colour.

“You need sunshine to hit the apple to make colour and you need the nighttime to drop to cooler temperature to develop the colour for ambrosia and other varieties,” Dhaliwal said.

The smoke doesn’t impact the flavour of the apples, he said.

Glen Lucas, manager with the BCFGA, said it’s up to the workers to monitor their health and do what’s safe and that workers have been taking extended breaks.

With a shortage of apple pickers this season, Lucas is asking those interested to contact Ron Forrest, BCFGA coordinator in charge of matching jobs with workers, at 778-363-3620.

READ MORE: Okanagan apple industry expecting shortage of pickers

Special air quality statements continue for both the Thompson and Okanagan valleys. According to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, there is a high asthma-related health risk for the Interior.

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