Changes in farmsize and demographics bode well for fruit industry.


s I drive the back roads through farm country I am beginning to see the changes talked about in the latest census figures. Empty fields growing hay are now being planted to cherries and new varieties of apples, and lately, cider apples. This does not mean the resurgence of the small farm, however.

The latest federal census on agriculture shows there are fewer farmers and larger farms, and that holds true for the fruit-growing industry. While farm acreage grew by six percent the number of stand-alone farms decreased as farms are becoming larger operations. It is also important to note farm income increased by 50 per cent. New technology, new varieties and amalgamation of of farms are creating a new farm model. Couple that with younger people entering the industry and a marked increase of women entering the business, the dynamic is changing.

People in the community are beginning to see what is actually happening on farm, as diversification takes place. So where are we? The farm of a century ago is barely recognizable today.

One hundred years ago Canadians were much more in tune with the farm community as 50 per cent of the population was connected in some way to farming. With the technology age that number is now two per cent. Thirty years ago the tree fruit industry began a slow decline to the point where most referred to it as a sunset proposition with a cottage component selling directly to consumers at the local level. For the past five years the trend reversed itself but no one had firm figures.

The reason was the census is only every five years and takes many months to compile — accurate information was not available. With a new cycle of more in-depth information we are able to see a much clearer picture of the state of farming in general.

Public perception and the actual facts varies widely when the results were tabulated.


By Fred Steele The latest ag census tells a story

Some misconceptions still arise with

interpretation of the facts. Yes, there are fewer farms, but the land did not go out of production, it merely meant farm size is bigger.

There are those who

point out hay fields are disappearing. This is good news. As new planting of tree fruit is demonstrating , the industry is once again attractive to farmers. Even more positive, more younger people entered agriculture, especially those aged 35 and under. There was also a one per cent increase in women entering the farm operator classification not only in tree fruit but in other commodity groups.

Many farmers still work off-farm to provide an alternate income stream. That too is about to change. With farm size increasing, more operators can afford to stay on the land full-time. In addition, the changing face of the tree

fruit industry is beginning to provide on- farm alternatives such as agritourism, cash crops and cottage cider operations, not to mention events such as weddings and other attractions that draw people to the farm. Smaller farms that diversify will continue to be an important part of the industry.

The tree fruit industry is changing to meet the demands of the marketplace and the community, and these changes will be ongoing as we improve and retool to meet domestic and export potential. What the census figures demonstrate is we are on the right track and we have figures to demonstrate our industry is growing. A growing industry has the ear of governments, financial institutions and the community at large. With that in mind, I believe the future is bright and our prospects and potential have not even scratched the surface of our success.

We will keep growing and renewing our objectives well into the future. — Fred Steele is president of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association

Okanagan vinyard and winry consulting comany

Pascal Madvon offrs rofssional advic to nw and mrging winris on vinyard managmnt, win roduction, and commrcialization. his st to hl othrs with thir rols in win follows 30 yars of rinc in win, notably as had winmakr of rstigious Bordau and Okanagan stats.

Madvon adviss Canadian winris on trroir, vin, win, and markting of rd, whit, and rosé wins. is goal is to work with assionat roritors and winmakrs who, lik him, ar looking to unlash th tru signatur of ach win.

Larn mor at ascalmad Phon (250) 488-8497 mail: .mad British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Summer 2017

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