Last year broughtmixed blessings, but whether 2016 will do the same remains to be seen.
here’s good news and bad news this year for growers. The mild winter allowed pruning to get started early and alleviated concerns about winter damage to trees and vines, but it’s also been an easy ‘killing season’ for insect pests, which likely will suffer fewer losses than in a normal winter season.
As well, the 2015 summer season continued well into fall until a cold snap in late November that allowed many grape growers who had held back grapes to make the precious icewine a brief window in which to pick frozen fruit.
There was another cold snap in late December that provided one more opportunity for those who hadn’t yet picked or decided to make a late harvest wine instead.
Other than those two cold-weather events, the temperature hovered just around freezing for much of the winter, with lots of snow flurries to provide ground cover and recharge aquifers and other irrigation sources. However, long-term forecasts are still for a warmer-than-normal and drier summer, and it may begin sooner, just as it did last year, with an early, warm spring.
Carl Withler, the agriculture ministry’s grape and apple specialist, says 2015 will be remembered as the year with the lowest claimed losses in the provincial crop insurance program’s history for Okanagan growers, which is good news for everyone, as all growers want to farm profitably.
He notes there has been a minor reduction in grape acreage in the past year, mostly in favour of Ambrosia apples, which will help to rebalance what has been an oversupply in grapes for wine during the past few years.
Despite that, there are some new wineries, for a variety of reasons, including the continued view of the
6 British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Spring 2016
By Judie Steeves Repeat weather performance expected
wine industry as a romantic occupation.
What’s been most interesting is the growth in cideries. Withler says quite frankly he would have laughed a decade ago if you’d suggested there was a future cider industry here. Yet, that’s exactly what’s happened. And, many are growing on agricultural land that’s on the fringe, in terms of climate, because cider apples tend to be hardier varieties than dessert apples. Also, looks and size are not as important as flavour in the apples grown for making cider. Lots of younger people are getting into cider making, he says, in addition to some existing orchardists who are grafting over.
And then, there’s the B.C. Tree Fruit Co-operative’s cider company and the successful Broken Ladder brand, which uses dessert apples rather than traditional cider varieties. Marketing guy Chris Pollock says it will launch two new products in April: Broken Ladder Apples & Hops and Broken Ladder Pears. The hoppy cider will be available at select Liquor Distribution Branch stores as well as at the cidery on Vaughn Avenue in Kelowna’s north end, but the perry will only be available at private liquor stores and at the cidery.
With installation this winter of a
new canning line, the cidery will now be able to do everything in-house, Pollock notes. He reports that not only is the new
cidery consuming lots of fruit that wouldn’t otherwise have been marketable, last year’s crop sold well too, so he’s confident growers will have money in their jeans again this year.
By May, the co-op expects to be sold out of apples, which is promising in terms of maintaining higher prices when harvest of the new crop begins. Despite a smaller crop last year, both in terms of fruit size and quantity, sales were higher year over year, and the average return was higher per carton, so growers should see an increase in returns. Growers harvesting new varieties such as Ambrosia, Honeycrisp, Royal Gala and Pink Ladies in particular should be happy, while anyone with Reds, Goldens, Grannies or Macs might want to consider taking part in the replant program.
With quantities of Ambrosia expected to double in the next five years, he says they are looking at exporting into new markets like the Eastern seaboard and overseas, like Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and Taiwan.
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