Thursday, March 25, 2010

Orchards

I have lived in the CRD for six years now, and for six years in the 80s, what I have never understood is why there are almost no orchards in this region?

My interest in Treefruits
I have had an interest in tree fruits since I was a child. I spent a lot of time in the south Okanagan. Some friends of the family, the von Hahns, owned an orchard just north of Oliver. My father was interested in agriculture, he had studied agriculture before and after the war. He was always interested to have Helmut von Hahn give him a tour of the orchard, I tagged along and learned about running an orchard.

As a teenager I worked a number of summers in the Okanagan picking cherries. In the early 80s I was the lone anglo working with a bunch of francophones. I paid attention to the economics of what it took by Brian Hardmann to operate his orchard in Naramata, the business side of it appealed to me.

Between 1999 and 2004 I worked on a number different projects looking at the economics of agriculture in some areas of the interior. There is a lot of land in various locations in the interior that is good land for growing stuff, but no one is using it. I worked with owners to come up with possible ideas for what could be grown.

I also owned a property with about 50 fruit trees, 40 of the prune plums. I produced enough plums each fall to flood the Lillooet market for plums. I could harvest as much as 8000 lbs of plums a year, though no place to go with them.

In the interior the problem was finding a market for what you grow, that is not a problem in this region.

No matter what anyone says, the agricultural lands in the CRD are not really the greatest. They are uneven and in a lot of areas have major drainage problems. Not ideal for commercial production of many things.

Land that is uneven can support trees. It is less work that berries or market garden crops and in the case of apples is not labour intensive to harvest. Why do we have so few orchards in this region?

Apples make economic sense

Apples can produce in the range of 20,000lbs per acre and if grown organically can be sold for $1.50 a pound without too much difficulty. We have enough venues to sell the fruit through, so there would be minimal need for storage. the volume of fruit purchased in the CRD is dramatically more than what we produce.

A ten acre apple operation should be able to gross $300,000 a year selling wholesale. If you plant it in differing varieties, especially heirloom types, you can ensure the harvest season can run from late July through to early November. About 16 weeks total harvest time.

Over 16 weeks at two farmer's markets a week, you can sell 30,000 to 50,000 lbs of apples without too much difficulty. If you hit the right market that can be more like 65,000 to 80,000 lbs. With organic heirloom varieties, you can sell the apples for $2 to $2.50 a lb fairly easily. Grossing over $150,000 at the farmers' markets is reasonable.

This still leaves about 140,000 lbs to sell wholesale for about $1.50 a pound, a total of $210,000.

Total gross income is $360,000.

This operation is small enough that one person can look after everything to do with it from November 7th to July 25th of each year. In the harvest season you need to pick an average of about 1800 lbs per day. To move this volume you need to hire one picker to work part time for the whole season.

If you are an organic farm, you can WWOOFers to come help. WWOOF is the Willing Workers on Organic Farms. It is a homestay program for young adults interested in organic farming. You provide them with a place to stay, they offer you work on the farm. Youth from around the world do this, you meet some very interesting people if you host WWOOFers.

So, it seems to me that the economics make sense for an organic apple orchard in this region, I am just not sure why there are so few in this region.
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