Okanagan apple industry expecting shortage of pickers | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Okanagan apple industry expecting shortage of pickers

September 08, 2020 - 6:40 AM

With fewer workers arriving through the seasonal agricultural worker program, the apple industry is bracing for an impact.

“Growers are concerned that there might be a shortage of labour, and if it’s anything like the cherry crop, we could be up to 20 per cent short,” said Glen Lucas, manager with the B.C. Fruit Growers' Association.

There are roughly 3,500 Mexican and Caribbean workers who are working in farms this year compared to the usual 4,500, he said, adding that international and national backpacker numbers are also down this year, and they’re expecting a shortage of them moving into the apple season.

Apples
Apples

“We employ lots of local people and there again we’re probably short on those workers as well. I think they’re better now than at the beginning of the pandemic, but there was concern about being safe and if a person was working in a packinghouse they were concerned what COVID-19 meant,” he said.

The Okanagan fruit industry already experienced a tough cherry season with cooler weather and fewer workers available.

READ MORE: Harvest is no bowl of cherries for Okanagan growers this year

Lucas said they’re encouraging local workers to come out, and the BCFGA asked for agricultural workers to be exempt so they could both collect the Canada Emergency Response Benefit while working to entice residents to work, but the federal government did not make an exemption, he said.

He asks for residents interested in applying to contact Ron Forrest, BCFGA coordinator in charge of matching jobs with workers, at 778-363-3620.

“It’s physically demanding work, but for someone who’s physical and capable can earn well over minimum wage,” he said.

Sunrise apples are currently being harvested over the next week, but the grower’s largest apple variety is the gala moving into September, he said. McIntosh apples are harvested towards the end of the month, followed by Ambrosia at the beginning of October.

Growers have been blessed with a good growing season, but the average apple sizes may be smaller this year, although that might vary by variety and growing area this season, said BC Fruit Growers' Association sales director Laurel Van Dam.

While there is an opportunity to turn the unpicked apples into juice and bars like at SunRype Products Ltd., she said growers are focused on getting the apples to the fresh market where they get the most value for their apples.


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