Apples ripen in a Summerland orchard. While fruit growing is an essential segment of the agriculture sector in the Okanagan and Similkameen, there are challenges facing orchardists. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)

Researchers examine challenges to Okanagan’s agricultural sector

Public policies and low prices affecting apple growing in region

Researchers from Kwantlen Polytechnic University are examining agricultural opportunities for sustainable economic and community development.

At the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen board meeting on Sept. 3, Dr. Kent Mullinix and Kristi Tatebe from the university presented information about the Okanagan Bioregion Food System Design Project, a multi-year research project.

The project is examining the potential to increase food production and processing for local markets in the Okanagan and Similkameen regions, how local food production could improve food self-resilience, the potential to reduce detrimental environmental impacts from food production and ways to address policy gaps.

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“There are few areas in the world better suited for apple production than Canada’s Okanagan Valley,” Mullinix told the board.

However, he said there are economic challenges facing fruit growers, including the costs of production and the prices of fruit.

“Apple farmers are likely not to receive sufficient proceeds from the sale of their crops to cover costs, which is why they struggle,” he said.

“It seems unlikely there is going to be any ability to alter the global apple market in the Okanagan apple industry’s favour.”

The researchers are examining issues including the use of farm land, water policy, post-production of agricultural goods, mitigating climate change and addressing food waste.

In a report to the regional district, the researchers said farmland protection is a strong policy focus in the Okanagan, but there are few policies aimed at increasing access to farmland for farmers.

The report also calls for an emphasis on post-production work, such as processing, packing and distributing food.

While this work is recognized, policies can be strengthened by land use planning, economic development strategies and networking events for post-production sectors.

Food waste is another issue facing the agriculture sector, the report states. Researches say in Canada, an estimated 40 per cent of food is lost or wasted, at a cost of $31 billion annually.

The repot from the Kwantlen researchers was received for information only. A final report on agriculture is expected in December or early in 2021.

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