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This B.C. farm can grow softball-sized peaches. This year they'll rely on vegetables

Amidst the sprawling orchards of British Columbia, the fate of this year's stone fruit harvest hangs in precarious balance, impacting the livelihoods of farmers like Jennifer Deol of There and Back Again Farms in Kelowna. The anticipation of a bountiful harvest was abruptly shattered by an unexpected January cold snap, leaving peach trees barren and threatening the iconic softball-sized peaches the farm is known for.

Jennifer Deol, like many other fruit farmers in the region, had meticulously nurtured her peach trees, even bringing branches into a warm greenhouse to monitor bud development. However, the devastating freeze in mid-January brought an unfortunate halt to their efforts. As Deol laments, "It'll be 90 per cent, if not more, lost, based off of what we're seeing on the peaches, on the apricots, on plums."

For small, family-run farms in British Columbia, where profit margins are slim even in prosperous seasons, the loss of a fruit harvest can be financially devastating. This year, with peach, apricot, nectarine, and plum harvests expected to be down by at least 90 per cent, farmers are left grappling with the aftermath of unpredictable weather patterns.

The president of the B.C. Fruit Growers' Association, Peter Simonsen, underscores the severity of the situation, stating that farmers are essentially an "endangered species." Despite efforts to protect agricultural land, Simonsen contends that the focus has shifted away from supporting the farms and the farmers who sustain them.

Simonsen urges the government to reassess existing programs designed to aid farmers during difficult years. The crop insurance program, funded by both provincial and federal governments, falls short during years of low fruit prices, providing minimal relief to struggling farmers. The decline in the number of tree fruit farms over the past 60 years signals a concerning trend, with Simonsen advocating for adjustments in insurance payouts to reflect more realistic values.

Farmers, faced with the financial strain of a decimated harvest, are turning to crop diversification to weather the storm. Jennifer Deol, for instance, plans to rely on a variety of vegetables and apples to sustain her farm's income. However, the challenges persist, as she emphasizes the ongoing financial commitment required to maintain the health of fruit trees, even in the absence of a harvest.

Pam Alexis, B.C.'s minister of agriculture and food, acknowledges the need for a comprehensive review of existing support programs. While crop insurance and AgriStability funding offer short-term relief, Alexis emphasizes the importance of ongoing research into resilient crops that can withstand extreme weather conditions.

As farmers confront the reality of a significantly reduced stone fruit harvest, their resilience and adaptability shine through. Paynter’s Fruit Market in West Kelowna, facing losses exceeding $100,000, is pivoting to alternative crops such as tomatoes and flowers. Owner Jennay Oliver remains optimistic, expressing a determination to continue providing locally grown produce to the community, even if it means transitioning away from traditional stone fruits.

In the face of adversity, British Columbia's farmers look to a future marked by diversification, adaptation, and a renewed call for governmental support to safeguard the sustainability of the agricultural industry.



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