P.E.I. apple grower says crop insurance, government support come up short

A P.E.I. apple grower says his industry is not being treated fairly when crops are damaged by extreme weather events. 

Arlington Orchards suffered significant damage from post-tropical storm Dorian in September.

"Losing 70 per cent of the honeycrisp crop is significant, we haven't really added them all up but there's going to be a significant cost, labour costs and replacing the trees," said owner Barry Balsom.

"We lost 19-year-old trees that produce 100 pounds of apples each, we've probably lost close to 800 trees. That's a lot of production that we've lost that's not going to be replaced for quite a while."

Apple growers on P.E.I. are part of an application to the federal AgriRecovery framework that the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture has submitted to the provincial government.

Nancy Russell/CBC

In 2018, apple growers were part of a similar claim after frost damaged blossoms in June, but only crops that were impacted by poor fall weather received compensation.

Unfair advantage

In Nova Scotia, the provincial government stepped up with a compensation package for apple growers, after the claim for federal relief was rejected.

"The feds said, 'you didn't lose your crop in October so you're not getting any coverage,'" Balsom said.

"The Nova Scotia government said to their blueberry growers and their apple growers, 'we don't accept that and they offered them $17 million to help pay out.'"

Randy McAndrew/CBC

Balsom said the support from the Nova Scotia government gives his competitors in the region an unfair advantage. 

"I mean great for the Nova Scotia growers, but we at Arlington Orchards are in the same market as everybody else," Balsom said.

"We can't keep getting these hits and absorbing these hits ourselves and stay relevant in the marketplace."

Randy McAndrew/CBC

A spokesperson for the P.E.I. Department of Agriculture said the government is trying to support apple growers after the damage from Dorian, through the AgriRecovery application. 

He said growers need to show their operation experienced extraordinary costs due to Dorian, including added labour, damaged trellises and trees being replaced due to damage, and the department needs that information to know if the province can make a claim.

Crop insurance concerns

Balsom also filed a claim through crop insurance after frost in June 2018 severely damaged his crop. 

He said he buys the full amount of insurance for Arlington Orchards that he can.

Randy McAndrew/CBC

"We lost 45 per cent of the crop last year and we got a payout of less than a week's pay for my employees, probably about $6,000," Balsom said.

"We've had significant damage this year in the orchard and I may get a couple of hundred bucks."

According to the P.E.I. Department of Agriculture, apple growers have the option of buying insurance for up to 90 per cent of their expected harvest. 

Randy McAndrew/CBC

That means that if they have 90 per cent insured but the crop is only 60 per cent of what was expected, the grower can make a claim for the other 30 per cent of the yield. 

The payment for the amount of crop shortfall is based on a five-year average of apple prices for P.E.I. determined by Statistics Canada.

'Not working'

Joanne Driscoll, with the P.E.I. Horticultural Association, said the current system of crop insurance is not working for some commodities, including apples.

"It is not working because it is not taking into account our full cost of production and our potential losses," Driscoll said.

"What they're being paid out with a loss is not covering the cost of production."

Randy McAndrew/CBC

Driscoll said the current system needs to be re-evaluated to reflect the actual costs of production.

"We have to sit down with the Agricultural Insurance Corporation, which I believe they're very willing to do, and evaluate all these numbers," Driscoll said.

"We really are looking for equality of programming so that our growers are not under this stress, they're paying for a program that will give them value back when they need it."

The Department of Agriculture said it's willing to work with apple growers to hear their suggestions for improvements, or areas that are missing from current aid programs. 

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