Opportunity for growth

The B.C. Treefruits Co-op is looking to expand the production of honeycrisp apples in the Shuswap and is willing to inject funding into their interest.

Retired agronomist Richard Smiley says the co-op wants the production of honey crisp increased but the climate in southern parts of the Okanagan does not accommodate them.

“Kelowna gets a 50 per cent pack,” he says of the 50 per cent of the crop that is culled because it is substandard, whereas local growers have much more successs. “Hannas get an 80 per cent pack of their honey crisps.”

In an effort to develop a long-term supply of the apples, in December, the co-op decided to open up opportunities for growing honeycrisp apples through a joint-venture program.

“They are willing to discuss anything from the owner of the land doing maintenance or the association doing it all,” says Smiley, noting the importance of the co-op’s willingness to invest in the planting. “Usually when you’re an orchardist, what usually kills you is having to invest to plant and to grow them to market.”

Since the co-op is going to shoulder a significant investment in planting or re-planting, the initial proposal is for a 15-year agreement with a covenant on land title that would pass on to the buyer should the property be sold. As well, the co-op would set the management standards and practices.

Smiley has already spoken to major apple producers in the Shuswap and suggests the program would not be practical for anything less than a 10 to 15-acre plot in close proximity to another plot with necessary equipment.

Stuart Hanna says the Hanna family began growing honey crisps when they first became available for planting some 10 years ago. They have about 800 honey crisp trees and, in the fall, grafted a couple of hundred more.

Hanna says the apples, which are a bit tart, colour well here because of the cooler temperatures, particularly at night, the touch of dew and then sun during the days.

While they are an attractive apple, Hanna says they are a difficult tree to grow.

“They can runt out and then you don’t get any growth,” he says. “Our trees are semi-dwarf and have to be thinned very early – and it does take some experience.”

If all the grafts take, the Hannas will be looking at a marketable crop in about four years, he says.

And the family, who does sell their fruit through the B.C. Treefruits Co-op, will not be getting involved with the joint venture program.

Anyone who is interested in getting more information or getting onboard, should call Gayle Cran at 250-550-4872 as soon as possible as the program will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Smiley says his own interest in the joint-venture proposal is in being the B.C. NDP Southern Interior representative for the Standing Committee on Agriculture, which is charged with maintaining the Agricultural Land Reserve.

“As I see it, the best way to do this is to increase profits to farmers, and I will continue to publish potential opportunities as they come to my attention.”


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