Fruit growers seek disaster money

A late spring frost damaged tree blossoms

LONDON, Ont. — Ontario fruit growers are one step closer to receiving AgriRecovery dollars.

Brian Gilroy, chair of the Ontario Apple Producers, said provincial agriculture minister Ted McMeeken has announced that an AgriRecovery assessment will be conducted.

“We’re confident an AgriRecovery file is being looked at thoroughly. We know that a disaster took place,” Gilroy said.

Farmers growing apples, cherries, pears, nectarines, plums and other tree fruits were blindsided by unusual weather this year.

A warm spell in March broke tree dormancy and then nighttime temperatures fell well below the freezing point in April. Trees bloomed but at the centre of the blossoms were black points. Yield potential has been reduced by 80 to 100 percent in most growing areas.

“I’ve got about 10 percent of my normal apple crop, and much of that will have a frost lick on it,” Gilroy said. “It’s an extra kiss from Mother Nature.”

A frost lick is a discolourization on the skin of the apple.

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Phil Tregunno, chair of the Ontario Tender Fruit Producers, said the situation is better for peach and grape growers. While individual circumstances vary widely, a 70 percent peach crop is forecast for the province. The grapes are in good shape.

AgriRecovery is funded on a 60-40 basis by the federal and provincial governments. It’s described by the federal government as a disaster relief program that may be implemented to provide assistance beyond what’s available through other programs such as crop insurance, AgriStability, AgriInvest and Ontario’s Self Directed Risk Management Program.

Farmers hit by floods in Saskatchewan and Manitoba have tapped into AgriRecovery in the past. So did 13 apple growers at the southern tip of Ontario’s Georgian Bay in Beaver Valley, who were hit by a tornado in 2009.

The extent of damage to Ontario’s fruit crops has been known for several weeks.

Gilroy said the programs available to the industry tend to be complex, and he isn’t surprised that a decision on AgriRecovery is taking time.

Gilroy said hardest hit are farmers who are relatively new to the industry and heavily indebted and larger orchard owners who rely on their enterprise for most of their income and who try to replace trees in their orchard annually.

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“This is what society needs to understand: a lot of the food produced in Canada is produced by people who have off-farm income in order to earn an adequate income for themselves,” he said.
Tregunno said growers would much rather have a bumper harvest, even with AgriRecovery in place.

“It’s just to make sure people don’t go out of business or dig too deep a hole for themselves.”

At his farm near Meaford, Gilroy said he’s already spent $500 per acre to control disease and insects in his 20 acre apple orchard. Maintenance is important for the following year’s crop.

He said he will harvest around 100 bins of apples this year, compared to a normal harvest of more than 1,000 bins.

The farmgate value of apples varies widely, from as little as $50 a bin to more than $500, depending on quality and variety.

Field crops in many parts of Ontario are looking good but there have been problems. Near Windsor, a handful of farmers suffered 100 percent damage to their corn and processing tomatoes as the result of a 20-minute hailstorm.

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