More than 67 percent of farmers indicate they have reduced fruit production as a result of uncertainties and risks created by COVID-19, according to a member survey from the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association (BCFGA).
The survey paints a stark picture of the devastating impacts of the pandemic on an already struggling fruit industry, and the real threat to food security in B.C. as producers are forced to cut crops to stay afloat.
“We knew things would be bad coming into the growing season this year, but these numbers are extremely troubling even to those of us in the industry,” said Pinder Dhaliwal, president of the BCFGA. “These numbers should worry anyone concerned about where their food will be coming from this fall, and how much it’s going to cost.”
The fruit industry was already facing stiff headwinds entering the 2020 growing season. For example, apple prices have been so depressed for three years running that the cost to produce has actually been higher than the price farmers receive for their crops.
The BCFGA survey demonstrates that the COVID-19 pandemic now has producers facing additional costs and labour shortages this year that will magnify an already weak financial picture.
Four in five (81%) say they are concerned about being able to cover the additional costs associated with following all COVID-related public health guidelines
Seven in eight (87%) are concerned they will not have enough hired labour to bring in their crops
“What is important to recognize is this pandemic has really highlighted the tenuous state of the whole agriculture sector in BC,” said Glen Lucas, general manager of the BCFGA. “If we don’t start to address some of the structural issues in our industry, food security and the food supply chain are at the mercy of whatever the next natural disaster is to come along.”
The BCFGA appreciates previous actions and financial supports provided by the Canadian and B.C. governments – including COVID-related emergency measures as well as ongoing agriculture industry risk management programs. But many challenges remain both in terms of increased costs and securing adequate amounts of labour.
BC’s interior tree fruit industry represents 800 growers operating orchards that generate $118 million in wholesale revenue and contribute $776 million in economic activity.