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Soft fruit demand still strong

Production levels have remained stable formost types, but there has been a significant decline in apricot acreage.

By Susan McIver B

ritish Colmbia orchardists likely will continue to find peaches, nectarines and plums to be profitable crops, according to an industry specialist and growers


The production of peaches, nectarines and plums has remained stable for a number of years, while the acreage planted in apricots has decreased significantly, said Jim Campbell, Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries specialist for tree fruits and grapes.

“I do not expect a lot of change in the future,” said Campbell speaking from his office in Oliver. Soft fruit production is concentrated in the South Okanagan and Similkameen due to the abundant sunshine and prevalent sandy soils.

B.C. peaches account for approximately 20 percent of the total Canadian production, while the other 80 percent is grown mostly in Ontario.

Gary Schieck, CEO of the Okanagan Tree Fruit Cooperative, said that in general there has been a slight decline in Okanagan production of stone fruits, with the exception of cherries, which continue to increase in production.

Although differing somewhat in their accounts of production levels, Campbell and Schieck agree the demand for redder varieties of peaches and nectarines is increasing. Wayne and Nina Richards, who have raised more than 50 varieties of soft fruit on their 17-acre farm, Eagle Bluff Orchards, near Vaseux Lake for nearly 20 years, think demand will remain strong for their fruit. “The increase in acreage planted in grapes in the South Okanagan combined with the continuing demand for peaches and nectarines indicates a good future,” Wayne said. Ramesh Rikhi, who operates a mixed orchard with eight acres in peaches in Summerland, concurs with the Richards’ outlook, as does another Summerland orchardist, Buck Barkwill, who said there always will be a demand for quality Okanagan soft fruit.

“Peaches are still a good crop. Nectarines are good sellers, but not many are available,” said Sandy McCarthy, manager of the OTFC store in Penticton.

She also said that with the amalgamation of packing houses she is able to offer customers more varieties of plums over a


Wayne and Nina Richards, in their on-farm produce stand near Vaseux Lake, think demand will remain strong for the more than 50 varieties of soft fruit they have grown for nearly 20 years.

longer period of time.

During the past decade McCarthy has seen apricot sales drop by approximately 50 per cent.

“Apricot production has been in steady decline for older, small-sized varietals and stable for some of the new varieties planted over the past 10 to 15 years. These new varieties are typically larger in size and better suited to the cosmetic demands of today’s customers,” said Schieck. The demise of the commercial canning industry in the Okanagan and more recently the decrease in popularity of home canning may have been among the forces driving this change.

In contrast to former times, when the majority of the apricot crop was canned, at present most apricots are eaten fresh.

Barkwill, who raises almost exclusively peaches and nectarines on 10 acres of his family’s original 60 acre orchard, remembers when approximately half was planted in Tilton and Blenheim apricots.

The fruit was grown specifically for the family cannery, Barkwills Cannery Ltd.

Diversification is an underlying theme for most soft fruit growers who often have a combination of peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, cherries and apples.

British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Fall 2011

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