Two immediate, fairly significant problems confront Pinder Dhaliwal, newly-elected president of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association.
By this time of year, many of the 3,500 foreign farmhands who work in the Okanagan have usually arrived from Mexico and Caribbean countries.
“But we’re hearing about delays in the arrivals this year,” Dhaliwal said Sunday. “The road bumps are either because of delays in processing the applications or new staff at Service Canada.
“But whatever the reason, it’s a problem for us, because agriculture is a time-sensitive business,” said Dhaliwal, a 48-year-old Oliver fruitgrower. “Things like pruning and thinning have to be done at a certain time. You can’t wait.”
Dhaliwal was elected president over Jeet Dukhia, a North Okanagan farmer, at the BCFGA’s annual convention on the weekend in Kelowna. They were the only two people vying to succeed Fred Steele, president for the past five years. Vote totals were not announced.
Along with a brewing labour shortage, Dhaliwal will try to address a sharp drop in the initial payments, made in the past two weeks, for growers for the 2017 crop. Total advance payments, Dhaliwal estimated, were down between 40 and 50 per cent from last year.
“It’s pretty grim news,” Dhaliwal said, blaming the unexpected drop in prices on such things the poor coloring and undersizing of many apples last year, along with problems in storage and a big Washington State crop, which has the effect of depressing market prices.
As soon as this week, BCFGA leaders and individual farmers will begin meeting with the representatives of government programs that are intended to offer some compensation when prices fall short of expectations.
“These programs are supposed to kick in when there are circumstances that affect returns for growers,” Dhaliwal said. “It’s a complicated process, and it offers just a percentage of coverage for losses, but it is helpful in times like these.”
Dhaliwal, who has been farming on his own since early 1990s with orchards of cherries, apples and other soft fruit, is nevertheless optimistic about the future of agriculture in the Okanagan.
The B.C. government’s announcement last week of an additional $5 million in industry assistance for replant programs and other investments in infrastructure is particularly welcome news, he said. “I’m positive about what’s around the corner,” Dhaliwal said. “You have to be, in farming.”