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British Columbia growers are struggling to find enough workers for cherry and apple harvests

The government of British Columbia has reported that farm product revenues hit a record in 2019, up to $3.9 billion, with increases in blueberries, grapes and nursery plants.

Agriculture Minister Lana Popham credits the improved revenues to the province’s work in “helping farmers farm and strengthening food security,” as well as promotion through the ‘Buy BC’ program in stores. But two thirds of the revenue increase over 2018 is from cannabis sales, which rose $300 million as legal retail expanded.

Like Vancouver Island and Fraser Valley berry and vegetable growers, tree fruit farmers are struggling to find enough workers for the labour-intensive picking of cherries and apples, the staple crops for the Okanagan and other fruit growing areas.

Despite the B.C. government’s nation-leading effort to support agriculture by providing quarantine for foreign workers coming in from Mexico. A recent survey by the B.C. Fruit Growers Association found that more than 80 per cent of growers expect to reduce production this year due to COVID-19, labour market conditions and a slump in price for apples, by far B.C.’s biggest crop.

B.C. apple prices have been below cost of production for the last three years, after staging a recovery with the popularity of new made-in-B.C. varieties such as Gala and Ambrosia, said Glen Lucas, general manager of the BCFGA. Washington state’s apple production has grown rapidly to 50 times as big as B.C.’s, and harvest costs are rising.

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