Okanagan and Creston cherry and apple farms are abandoning some crops due to a lack of workers. The worker shortage is the result of COVID-19 impacts on international travel and a reduction of travel options within Canada. Usually 1,500 backpackers arrive from Quebec, but numbers have been reduced this year.
The tree fruit industry and the BC Ministry of Agriculture are asking local workers to consider helping with the harvest so that food waste is reduced. A new ‘web portal’ (at bcagjobs.gov.bc.ca) has been launched.
Cherry producers are finding that the labour shortage is causing them to ‘run out of time’ in harvesting a variety. Practically, the harvest of one variety stops when the next variety starts to ripen, even though the crop remains unharvested in the first variety.
Late season cherry varieties are being harvested in the Okanagan, Similkameen and Creston Valleys in August. The early apple variety Sunrise will start harvest in the next week in the South Okanagan and move to the North Okanagan later in August. Late season apples such as Gala, Ambrosia, McIntosh and Spartan are harvested from September to November.
Tree fruit harvest is typically by piece rate (e.g. $/bin, or $/pound), and minimum rates are established that allow workers with good hand-eye coordination and the ability to carry out the physical work to achieve income significantly in excess of minimum wage.
“The harvest work is physical and rewarding,” said Pinder Dhaliwal, president of the BC Fruit Growers’ Association (BCFGA). “Practically, the work requires the ability to go up and down ladders and to lift weights of up to 30 pounds. Harvest work often starts early in the day to avoid the intense heat of the day.”
Source: BC Fruit Growers’ Association August 7, 2020 news release