OAG Annual Report
October 31, 2020 - Download the PDF
COMMENTS FROM THE CHAIR
[A person standing in front of a fruit tree Description automatically generated] As Kelly and I sat at the Canadian Horticulture Council meeting in Ottawa the middle of March, we had no idea that there was a terrible storm brewing around the world. Oh, Covid-19 was mentioned, but it felt far away and really was not a discussion point at our meetings in Ottawa. By the time we got home, the country was beginning to shut down. Store shelves were empty, and this gave consumers a new respect for locally produced food.
Despite difficult circumstances, apple growers have been nimble; have adapted and carried on producing another great crop. Farmers are good at problem solving and dealing with adversity, but usually it comes from the sky, or the markets, not from a virus.
The biggest impact Covid-19 has had on our businesses has been labour shortages and changes to how we work, such as using PPE or cohort groups. Our workers were late, and then we had to isolate them for 2 weeks before they could work. Many of us were unable to get the numbers of workers needed to do crucial spring work such as pruning and thinning.
We have worked closely with the OFVGA and the OFA to make sure the various levels of governments know what we need. Health and safety is always of the utmost importance on our farms and with our employees. To assist our members, the OAG acted quickly and hired Worker Safety Prevention Services to create a Covid-19 protocols to the Tree Fruit Health and Safety Guidelines.
Press coverage of the agricultural workers who come to Canada was overwhelming day after day even though we were following government and Public Health protocols to keep everyone safe on the farm. There was a lot of confusion about Pick-Your-Own farms earlier this fall and it resulted in some farmers being ticketed, while others were left alone. Rules and guidelines changed often during the season and local health units and municipalities were left to enforce regulations that varied across jurisdictions. For some growers, mental health has suffered and all of us have felt additional stress. The government is aware of this situation and has developed programs and public service announcements to urge farmers to seek assistance if needed.
Having participated in many Zoom meetings with the Federal and Provincial Ag Ministers, I would say that they understand the need for the SAWP program and the changes we are proposing to the Business Risk Management programs. We have stressed many times that we simply could not grow apples in Ontario without our seasonal agriculture workers. None the less, we do face increased regulation in the coming years, and we are providing feedback to the various levels of government regarding the sector’s needs, most recently on worker housing requirements. A major frustration for growers with seasonal worker housing was the patchwork set of regulations across Ontario. Each Public Health Unit – and there are 34 of them – has their own ability to set regulations and this makes it confusing for everyone.
The 2020 crop is certainly a vintage year. We had a relatively easy winter and, except for the extreme south- west, where there was some frost at bloom, there was a good spring pollination season. Summer was exceptionally hot and dry in most areas and rain was spotty with some districts receiving almost none for several months. Our crop estimates have indicated a larger crop has appeared this fall with excellent colour and flavour. Honeycrisp is having an “on” year.
As we review and analyze the 2019 crop, markets have been tough with demand changing from tray pack to bagged apples as the pandemic hit. Prices for our older varieties have not kept up with the cost to produce them and so I am sure there are many of you examining your variety mix and blocks with a keen eye on productivity and efficiency.
The Board met pre-pandemic lockdown and developed a new five-year strategic plan for the OAG. We have changed the vision and mission of the organization and determined the focus areas to ensure our continued success. Thank you to those of you who completed the surveys, your input was instrumental in its development. Please take a few minutes to review the strategic plan in this report.
On behalf of Ontario’s apple growers, I would like to thank and acknowledge our many funding partners. The OAG has been fortunate to receive funding from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. Thank you also to the Apple Marketers’ Association of Ontario and Ontario Fruit & Vegetable Growers’ Association for their continued funding support of our initiatives.
I would like to thank the Board of Directors and all our staff for their work this year with a special shout out to Brian Rideout, our Vice Chair, and Kelly Ciceran, our General Manager. From the start of my chairmanship, I decided to take a management team approach with Brian and Kelly, and I thank them very much for all their extra work.
We don’t know what next year will bring, but I want to let you know that as members of the Ontario Apple Growers, your Board and Kelly will be working hard to tackle the issues as they come. We will listen to you and we will let the government know what we need to keep our businesses healthy.
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