I love a good-news story.
Deep down, I think most human beings do: the missing child suddenly found, the dog rescuing the baby from the fire, the miners all being brought up alive, the little girl making it out of the well. We all love to hear that something wonderful has happened when the exact opposite was also a possibility.
Recently, Canada’s apple industry has been experiencing just that – good-news stories. And with the disaster that was the 2012 apple season – at least in eastern parts of the country – a good-news story for apple growers is nothing to scoff at.
This fall, B.C. growers have been basking in their good news – a bumper crop fetching high prices. The weather disaster in eastern Canada and the eastern U.S. this past spring has meant a shortage of apples on the North American market and a prime opportunity for west coast growers. And just in time, too.
“(The) last four years have been devastating,” B.C. Fruit Growers Association president Kirpal Boparai told CBC News. “I’m hoping everybody makes a few cents.”
This is the same association that in early 2010 had members selling their apple crop at 13 cents per pound, almost 10 cents per pound below the break-even point for cost of production.
Of course, this good-news story comes at the cost of Ontario apple producers, some of whom lost most of their crop to a spring frost that followed an early warm spell in late March. This resulted in a loss of about 88 per cent of the province’s apple crop, according to Brian Gilroy, chair of the Ontario Apple Growers. In some cases, growers with on-farm markets were forced to supplement their spotty or non-existent produce with apples shipped in from Quebec.
La belle province also had a good-news story this year with an announcement of $150,000 in funding from the federal government to help in the development of an “experimental commercial process and production chain prototype” to extract the natural sugars from low-grade apples. The project is being tackled by Les Vergers Cataphard & Fils Ltd., the third-largest apple packer in Quebec, which is located in the Laurentide region with production of about 20,000 trees.
“We are thrilled to have received support,” said Martin Cataphard, president of the operation, adding the investment will help with the development of their value-added products.
This is very similar to the good news that another business, Martin’s Apple Fruit Farm, located near Waterloo, Ont., received back in July when the federal government announced a $1.5-million investment in the operation to create a new processing line for apple crisp snacks and cider.
“Together, we will be creating a new opportunity to contribute to the growth and sustainability of the Ontario apple industry,” said Kevin Martin, president of Martin’s Apple Fruit Farm.
And the good news just kept on coming. In early October, the feds had another good-news announcement for the Canadian apple industry – the naming of a new apple variety. Formerly known as SPA493, the medium-sized, late-harvest pink and yellow apple is now known as Salish – the language and name of a First Nations tribe that lives along the west coast of Canada. It was developed and tested by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in partnership with the Okanagan Plant Improvement Corporation (PICO) and originated from a cross of Splendour and Gala cultivars.
“With already 15 orchardists committed to growth Salish, we look forward to having increased production year after year,” said John Kingsmill, general manager and CEO of PICO. “This … apple holds the promise of being one of the best.”
There have been other good-news stories in the apple industry this year, including a visit by the International Fruit Tree Association to apple producers in Quebec, several demonstrations of a fruit-picking machine from Europe that can potentially help cut labour costs by 35 per cent, plus an orchard automation workshop in Nova Scotia that introduced apple producers to the future of fruit production.
It’s awesome to hear about good-news stories, especially for an industry that has struggled in the past. I look forward to hearing and reporting on more promising news from Canada’s fruit and vegetable industry in the new year.
• • •
On a sad note, the Canadian apple industry lost a great friend and ambassador this past summer. Gary Ireland, a Simcoe, Ont., apple producer for more than 50 years, passed away Aug.16 at Brantford General Hospital. He was 68.
I can remember the first time I met Gary. I was a young, wet-behind-the-ears junior reporter at the local Simcoe newspaper intent on writing a series on the future of farming – and failing at it miserably. I think Gary took pity on me. He spent an afternoon driving around with me in his truck visiting his various orchards and talking about his favourite subjects – apples and farming.
I don’t remember how that series worked out but I do remember Gary’s kindness and patience with a cub reporter who might have understood agriculture but had a lot to learn about apples.
Many years later, as editor of Canadian Fruit Grower and Fruit and Vegetable Magazine, I interacted with Gary numerous times, touring his orchards and marvelling at his many innovative production ideas that he was only too willing to share with all apple producers. I also attended Canadian Horticultural Council Apple Committee meetings when he served as chair.
To list Gary’s accomplishments in the apple industry is daunting. He was a past president and director of the Ontario Apple Commission, a member of the Norfolk Fruit Growers, a past president of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association, a past winner of the Golden Apple Award, a past chair of the Ontario Food Terminal’s board, a past member of Horticulture Crops Ontario and part of the group that helped create the annual Ontario Fruit & Vegetable Convention. That organization recently founded an annual scholarship at the University of Guelph in Gary’s name to express appreciation for the work he did to help that show become a success.
Gary is survived by his daughter, Meredith, her husband, Dion Klitzke, and their son, Garret. I extend to them my deepest sympathies. Gary was a wonderful, kind man.
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