Letnick: Summer marks fresh fruit season in the Okanagan

Summer time is synonymous with fresh fruit in B.C.

I was out for a walk the other night, enjoying the warm Okanagan evening, when I started craving a peach. Summer time is synonymous with fresh fruit in B.C. When you’ve been out in the sun and starting to feel a little hungry, you can’t beat the satisfying taste of nutritious, delicious fruit.

I get similar cravings in the fall, though usually then I’m anticipating the delightful crunch and sweet taste of biting into a fresh apple.

We are so lucky to live in a place where we can experience the sublime pleasure of eating fruit plucked straight from a tree.

The B.C. tree fruit industry has 400 commercial growers in the Okanagan, Similkameen and Creston valleys. We also have fruit producing areas in the Fraser Valley and the Gulf Islands—though not on the scale we have here in the Okanagan.

All in all, our province has about 15,000 acres of apples, pears, cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums. Just writing about all those delicious fruits makes me hungry.

We know about the health benefits that come with eating fresh fruit – that saying about an apple a day keeping the doctor away didn’t come out of nowhere.

However, fruit and the fruit industry also play a vital role in the health of our province’s economy. The grower farm cash receipts for apples alone were valued at $44 million in 2012.

When we look at another one of my favourite crops, grapes, it’s even more outstanding.

In 2012, total farm gate receipts in grapes were more than $54 million. That’s an increase of 31 per cent from the year before. It was a good year for grape growers, which means a good winter that resulted in fewer injured grapes. In can be very hard on grape farmers when crops don’t fare so well through our cold months.

Most of the grapes we produce serve a higher purpose than merely being excellent finger food for our kids’ lunchboxes.

B.C. accounts for more than one-third of the entire country’s grape receipts, and production in this province has doubled since 2000. The main reason is the increased demand for high-quality grapes from British Columbia wineries.

Our province’s 642 grape farms cover more than 10,000 acres with all but 200 acres used for wine grapes. The majority of our great grapes—90 per cent—are produced in the Thompson-Okanagan.

As a wine lover, I’m thrilled our farmers are able to cultivate such world-class crops and that we have been able to develop wineries we can all be proud of.

More than 60 varieties of grapes are produced in the province. The top 10 are: Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah (Shiraz) and Cabernet Franc.

British Columbia wines are making a name across the country, around the continent and even overseas.

But when it comes to our No. 1 exported tree fruit, cherries take the cake. In 2012, B.C. exported $42.1 million in cherries to countries such as Hong Kong, the U.S. and the Netherlands.

B.C. exported $16.9 million in apples, $1.5 million in apricots and $400,000 in pears that same year.

The Okanagan is world famous in part because of our successful agricultural industry. Our B.C. government’s goal has always been to support agriculture and the people who work in it.

In fact, B.C.’s top tree fruit exports in 2012 included cherries ($42.1 million), apples ($16.9 million), apricots ($1.5 million) and pears ($0.04 million).  One of the biggest opportunities for B.C. cherries is the potential to open access to the Chinese markets. This month I will be travelling to China as part of ongoing negotiations to gain greater export opportunities for B.C. cherry growers. I am optimistic that we will soon be successful.


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