by SUSAN MANN
The federal and provincial governments continue to assess frost damage to Ontario’s apple and tender fruit crops to determine if they qualify for assistance under the disaster relief AgriRecovery process.
But both levels of government say existing programs, such as crop insurance, AgriStability and AgriInvest, are farmers’ first line of defense to cover any monetary losses.
Patrick Girard, media relations supervisor for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, says by email it’s too early to know how and to what degree producers will be affected. He adds the crop insurance program in Ontario is designed to compensate producers for financial losses from production or quality declines due to weather events, such as frost.
“This federal-provincial program is the primary source of assistance to help fruit producers in Ontario who have been impacted by frost damage this spring,” he says.
Agricorp administers crop insurance in Ontario. Agricorp spokesperson Stephanie Charest says 77 per cent of growers with production insurance for apples, peach, pear, sour and sweet cherry and plum crops have contacted them to report damage. Adjusters are out in the field meeting with growers individually.
It’s too early to determine what the monetary amount of the damage is, she notes.
Girard says growers also have access to AgriStability and AgriInvest and the federal government is working with the province “to ensure that these existing programs respond to the needs of affected producers.” He says farmers can get an interim payment under AgriStability to help with production-related costs.
The federal government is also continuing to work closely with the province to monitor the situation and determine the full impacts on producers. Its scientists are also out in orchards doing assessments of the damage.
Girard says AgriRecovery is designed to help farmers with the costs of necessary actions to resume business operations or mitigate the impacts of a disaster. It’s intended to complement not replace assistance available through existing programs.
Ontario Agriculture Minister Ted McMeekin says both the federal and provincial ministers have to jointly declare there is a disaster. Currently the provincial ministry’s scientists are on the ground gathering information and doing their analysis. If it becomes clear there is a disaster the ministry will move quickly if it needs to.
McMeekin says they’re waiting to see how much fruit drops. Fruit trees only grow about 10 per cent of their blossoms and the other 90 per cent “pop fruit and then drop,” he says.
The agriculture ministry is hearing “some fairly optimistic reports from parts of the apple and tender fruit folks that their hoping it maybe isn’t as bad as originally thought to be the case,” he says.
Meanwhile grower groups say there is significant damage in some crops, such as apples, cherries and plums. The damage was the result of extremely warm weather in March that accelerated blossom growth by a month and then frost in April wiped them out.
Brian Gilroy, chair of Ontario Apple Growers, says they’re confident “an AgriRecovery file will be opened for this. This is weather disaster that is unprecedented and the crop losses are significant enough that it can’t be profitable for farmers to bring a lot of the acreage to harvest.”
Gilroy says they’re waiting for the province to finish its assessments. “By the end of this month they should be able to make a call on what it is they’re planning on doing.”
But growers are getting a bit anxious, he says.
Ontario Apple Growers has estimated that 85 per cent of the crop has been lost. They’ve pegged the monetary farmgate value of the loss at $55 million to $60 million. It’s estimated the economic impact of the loss is $350 to $400 million, Gilroy says, explaining these are losses for packing and processing plants, reduced labour requirements and grocery store losses because not as many workers are in the area.
Phil Tregunno, chair of the Ontario Tender Fruit Producers’ Marketing Board, says plums and cherries are a complete write off. For peaches, there will be about 70 per cent of a normal crop. Damage is spotty with a lot of growers wiped out completely while others along the lake will have a full crop.
The Jordan and other areas away from Lake Ontario are all affected, he says, noting the farmers’ loss in tender fruit is $24 million.
Tregunno says they’re asking for AgriRecovery for tender fruit. “We haven’t got a positive response just yet. It’s still in the works but we’re certainly hoping for it. There are enough shortfalls in some of the other programs they (the governments) have available that it would be something our growers need.” BF