OAG Annual Report
October 31, 2017 - Download the PDF
COMMENTS FROM THE CHAIR
Two of the largest challenges affecting the viability of our Ontario apple industry today are weather and government policies and I would suggest that it is government policies more than the weather that will have the greatest influence.
In the spring of 2017, Mother Nature woke up with a hangover from 2016. For most apple farmers in Ontario, the effects of an extremely dry year in 2016 resulted in reduced crops in 2017 by as much as 20 – 50 % or even more. For some farmers 2017 was also the wettest year on record. For others, hail was more prevalent than prior years with some farmers being hit 3 times in the one year. OAG is in constant communication with OMAFRA concerning the crop insurance program to ensure that it is as efficient as possible for the benefit of the apple farmer.
On a more positive note, apple quality was exceptional with the packable fruit being equal or higher than last year, resulting in fewer culls on the packing line. As well, most apple trees are going into next year with little or no stress which is opposite to the fall of 2016 and our trees will be full of carbon for the 2018 growing season.
When it comes to government policies, this was not a good year for the apple industry. First and foremost, on everyone’s mind is the extreme hike in minimum wage. Led by OFVGA and LICC, the OAG has been fully engaged in lobbying the government to lessen the short-term impact of this legislation on edible horticulture farmers. I have attended many meetings on the subject and done my best to convey the impact of this legislation on our industry and work continues at the highest levels on this issue. Most farmers have experienced three crop loss years over the past six. With the implementation of the new minimum wage, I believe we will lose more farmers from our sector. In my 42 years as an apple grower, I have never experienced more challenges than I’m facing today.
OAG, in an effort to be proactive, has met with three Ministries to introduce a planting program for the Ontario apple farmers. With the increase in minimum wage, this program is even more important. There are currently tree orders that have been placed and are now being cancelled because apple farmers cannot afford to replant. If we can’t replant and adapt to new labour saving systems and new varieties for the marketplace then our industry will cease to exist. OAG has asked the government of Ontario for a grant of $5.00/tree over a ten-year period up to a maximum of $25 million or $2.5 million/year. OAG will continue to push hard for this program.
Two very important studies that OAG has been working on have been released this year. The first is the economic impact study for the Ontario apple industry that states that Ontario cannot supply the needs of the province, let alone an export market. We only supply 45% of apple requirements of Ontario and, by planting more trees, we have the potential of supplying 90% of Ontario’s apples and create an export market.
The second study is the Ontario Apple Establishment and Production Costs, a must read for farmers planning on staying in the business. It will be more important for the farmers this winter to sharpen their pencils instead of their pruners. This report could not have been timelier.
OAG has built a positive relationship with the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada apple breeding staff, Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland) and the University of Minnesota to ensure access to the new marketable apple varieties for Ontario farmers. Working cohesively is a major coup for the Ontario apple industry and these partnerships are very important.
This summer, OAG had a hugely successful apple tour in Niagara and I want to thank the three hosts of our tour stops, Vineland, Art Moyer and Richard Feenstra for having us in their orchards especially after suffering devastating hail events. In the face of adversity, these two farmers showed us their commitment to the industry and true strength of character.
Continuing to impact our industry are three government policies that include Business Risk programs (SDRM, AgriInvest, AgriStability and AgriRecovery), Integrity Audits on our labour from Service Canada and the CanadaGap Food Safety program. The benefits of all business risk programs have been reduced or eliminated just when our industry needs them the most. Service Canada’s Integrity Audit, though I agree with compliance with the LMI contracts, needs to have a more reasonable approach without placing our businesses at great risk. Because of this program, we have farmers not knowing if they can obtain their farm labour and, added on top with the proposed increase in wages, the affordability of the labour staff. Our CanadaGAP Food Safety program needs to be overhauled as some sections are impossible to comply with or not needed. The result is frustration and fear with farmers who are concerned with the ability to market their crops.
Crop Protection is another concern for our farmers. Many new products are being registered for use on apples but the old products under re-evaluation, especially ‘M’ type fungicides, have the potential of being lost. OAG is working closely with OFVGA and CHC with an excellent team working on your behalf on these issues.
My thanks are sincerely extended to the Ontario Apple Growers’ Board of Directors and our staff for their continued commitment to the organization and the sector.
In closing, I would like to invite all Ontario apple farmers, industry and government representatives to join us at the Apple Academy Conference on January 22nd to 24th, 2018. Learn how to survive and prosper in the dynamic and ever-changing apple industry.
Charles R. Stevens
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