KELOWNA, B.C. — The prime minister got a first-hand look at how heat and wildfires in British Columbia last year combined with mild temperatures in the earlier months of 2022 have left fruit growers with a lighter than normal crop.
Justin Trudeau stopped at Lutz Orchards in Summerland, B.C. on Monday as he swung through the province on a summer tour across the country, meeting with workers in different occupations including farmers and growers.
Trudeau asked Derek Lutz, the farm's owner, how the weather had affected yield and of cherries.
“Last year was really dry so they were small?” he asked about the size of the cherries.
“Yeah,” Lutz replied.
“And this year was really wet so they were overly plump and split?”
“That’s exactly what happened,” the farm owner said.
The cherry crop is about 30 to 40 per cent lower than what it is in a normal year, and they're about two weeks behind, Lutz said in an interview.
The extreme weather including heat, cold, wind and hail are "definitely concerning," he noted.
"You know, that's kind of the new normal. It's worrying for the future, for sure," he said. "We've definitely got weather issues."
The prime minister, during his visit to the farm, strapped on a harness and a white bucket, and tried his hand at cherry picking.
Lutz said most pickers fill 70 to 90 of the 20-pound buckets in a day while he could do about 20.
Trudeau said he might be able to do about a quarter of the bucket.
As the prime minister tackled a bunch of about 20 cherries, Lutz gave Trudeau a hand by emptying a silver pail of the fruit into his bucket.
“There we go. Aha,” the prime minster said looking down at the fruit. “I had nothing to do with that.”
He continued to pick the ripe, red fruit.
“We gave you a spot that had some nice low-hanging fruit,” Lutz said with laugh.
“I’m a big fan of the low-hanging fruit,” Trudeau replied, also laughing.
Lutz said he appreciated Trudeau's visit because it highlighted family-owned farms.
Earlier in the day, the prime minister made a stop at the BC Tree Fruits Cooperative in Kelowna where he learned about sorting and packing of cherries. He also helped with packing a few bags of the fruit.
The cooperative serves up to 400 producers in the province, supporting small farmers with everything from packaging to export of their product to international markets.
Laurel Van Dam, vice president for the cooperative, said being a fruit grower in the Okanagan Valley has been a "bit of a tough go for the last few years."
"Mother Nature has really not been kind to our growers."
Farmers are looking at different technologies including various nutrients and methods of pruning their trees to work with nature and get as much produce as possible, she said.
The capricious weather along with inflation have added to farmers' mental stress, she noted.
"But growers are very resilient," Van Dam said. "That's one thing that you can say whether you're talking about Prairie farmers or whether you're talking about farmers in B.C. or anywhere else. They're resilient kind of people. So they are continuing to deal with all curveballs thrown in their way."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 18, 2022.
The Canadian Press