Apples and Economy in Crisis

Here’s an orchard planted 4 years ago. Well, a tiny bit of it. Note that the trees are dwarfs, planted as close as liners in a nursery.

Note also that each tree was grafted with a machine (more on that in a bit), with pink paint applied to seal the wound. The tree on the left came late from a partially failed graft. The tree in the middle lost its graft, regrew and then was grafted again about a foot off the ground. Note:

Planting trees with the graft union higher than 3 inches above the ground can be a way to reduce vigor. However, planting too high above the ground can lead to burrknot formation on the aboveground portion of the rootstock creating potential feeding sites for insect larvae and dogwood borer. Burrknot cracks can also be entry points for fire blight.

Well, that’s happened. On the one on the left below as well.

What you are looking at is a tree that was summer grafted at the one foot level after the first graft failed. The middle tree, painted white, is grafted at the appropriate height, and is painted white so that the young tree could be treated with herbicide, killing competition without touching the tree. The one on the left probably took some herbicide injury, above the height issue, because of its poor state when first planted. These trees were all planted as rootstocks in the field, and then grafted with a hand-held tool that cut a shallow wedge from the tree and an opposite wedge from a scion. The scion was inserted into the rootstock, and bound up from there. This is from the first year of the orchard, one of the ones that made it. The ones with paint above were done in the second year. The summer grafted ones were done a third time.

The swelling at the union of graft and scion is typical for this variety of dwarf rootstock. The flow of nutrients from the root gets congested there, fittingly enough for a cross-species mix. You can see the result in the differing size between the trunk of the root and the trunk of the tree itself, influenced in part by the excess height of the rootstock above ground. Darn it, it’s hard to bend down that far to graft when you’re moving from tree to tree. Notice as well, if you have sharp eyes, the rootstock trying to send out a root above ground, above a half inch above the soil, at 4 o’clock — an indication of unhappy roots below ground. All is not well. Here, neither.

The graft on this one is even higher, with the dwarfing even more pronounced. The one below demonstrates the kind of wounds we can get in such conditions. Note that the trunk of the tree above the union has lost 30% of its potential flow due to a wound caused by poor grafting technique.

Note as well how the painted tree to the left is growing a new tree from below the graft. The anti-weedspray coating didn’t do the trick and the top has, for all useful purposes, died. Sigh. Now, remember, the fourth and fifth year are the years of highest production for this training system. Look below, and not just at the terribly high graft unions in behind.

On close to three feet of trunk, every available fruiting space had an apple last year, and has set a leaf bud, to create a new fruiting spur for 2023. Too many apples were cropped last year …

(well, most went onto the ground, actually, at picking time, as they weren’t good enough to ship. If you ship them, you have to pay to truck, store and sort them, and you will go broke at that, if you’re not just kicked out of the cooperative for low quality. Really.)

…because they weren’t adequately thinned with poisons at blossom time and no-one came by later to correct the job in early June. The result is that year 4 was a bust and year 5 (2022) is a total loss. As for 2023…

Note how no-one came by last year to fasten the trees to the wires so that they would grow straight. The result is a tree that whips around in the wind, damaging apples, and loses its central dominance. It tries to grow a new vertical stalk to replace the hanging one, as you can see, but a lot of energy, and fruiting, is lost in the process. In other words, no one came by to care for these trees last year. Well, actually, that’s not true. See the broken branches below?

That was deer. They’re not supposed to be here, because of a $50,000 deer fence, but if you don’t maintain a fence, well, the deer will get in. The argument for deer fences is that deer severely damage young trees. As you can, perhaps, see with these trees, a little pruning, that should have been done anyway, on weak trees that aren’t producing, is not the worst these trees have to suffer, and not the cause of their dying condition. That was $50,000 wasted, except as a signal to other humans that this is private property, a signal of freedom. Well, sure, but look again:

This industry is supported by a $2.50/tree subsidy for replanting in this “efficient” system. Do the math: $1 for the root, $.40 for the scion, $.15 for labour, leaves $.95 per tree, at 3,500 trees to the acre. That “efficiency” leaves enough money to pay for the fence and the water system, although it was intended to pay for 1/3 the cost of a proper tree at wholesale prices. The only way to make this work is to hire unskilled labour and to provide workers with simple tools for low-quality grafts, which are then done so poorly (lack of skill, and pressure to use a limited amount of scion wood, whether it is of an appropriate size or not) that they have to be done 3x. The whole point of the system, though, is to buy a tree that will crop in the first year, grow strongly, and reach peak production by year 4. If you lose a year right off due to grafting in the field, then a year because most of the grafts fail, then a year for 1/8 of the trees because those second grafts failed, and then the trees grow to 1/4 size because untrained workers grafted them (understandably) too high, well, it all just costs too much, and you’ll go broke, especially since the land cost you $1.4 million dollars in the first place, and 10% of your orchard actually died in 2022.


So, this is by way of an apology. If I complain that food prices and farm health are linked to racial issues, I mean it. Hiring temporary Mexican workers, no matter how hard-working and ethical they are (and they score high on both counts; they’re great men and good friends), to scam the government, without training them over years to have the skills to make their wages efficient enough that they can be hired year-round to prevent all of the problems you see above, only perpetuates our problems. Even more ridiculously, these apples are shipped to Chelan, Washington, for packing, even though the government of British Columbia poured $3.5 million into a new packing plant to enable B.C. orchards to remain competitive. Then the apples are trucked back to B.C. and sold as “local”, as if they didn’t carry a stain of unemployment and a high carbon footprint with them. Simply put, we have to stop subsidizing this behaviour. I don’t see any hope for this orchard. All I can figure is that it will be sold, for double the land purchase price, to the new vineyard across the road.

Here, milk cartons are used to provide a barrier to herbicides, there is the same high-density planting (the goal will be to take 1 or 2 bunches of grapes from each stressed plant, to get expensive quality wine out of a marginal site), the same fortune spent, and similar errors made. The plants here were still growing strongly at frost time, which did not come early. They took a beating, as you can, perhaps, see in the leaves still clinging to dead stalks. Look again:

This part of the vineyard was planted in 2,000 and again in 2001, after more than half of the plants died, after being planted too late in 2000 and perishing in the winter. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen again. Fingers crossed.

So, if CBC News can put up a big article about how rising food prices are caused by the money supply …

A file image of an apple core. There are several important reasons why Canadians should pay attention to a statistical measure called ‘core’ inflation. (CBC” )

… just remember that there’s a lot more than financial policy at play. There is also the problem of overlooking racial components, including the exclusion of labour and training for hand workers, and the drive to pull individual rather than social profit out of a shared Earth, ultimately, it seems, to produce a crop (wine) for the elite. Not only that, but do look at the size of that apple. That’s real inflation, caused by using dwarf rootstocks to maximize profit at the least possible labour. Every apple costs at least $1 in the store now, even though every apple is too big for anyone to eat. If the apples were half the size, there would be less food waste, including the waste of that unfinished core above, there would be twice the yield per acre, and food costs would go down appreciably, even if cost per pound went up to adequately pay labour so that people grew skilled or could be hired year-round and make a home here and build an industry. At the moment, small apples are undesirable, because they taste terrible, given that in this system they come from weak trees or weak fruit buds, as, no doubt you’re tiring of me pointing out. But, yes, it’s racial. And it stinks.

“The B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association relies on about 4,500 temporary foreign workers to help pick Okanagan produce every year. It does not expect to have enough hands to complete the harvest this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Glen Lucas)”

Good men like these deserve better. We all deserve the better that skills training, permanent employment and a decent wage can provide.

7 replies »

  1. I appreciate your respect for the agricultural labourers. Often, in the agricultural press, they seem to “production units” and not people .

    (I know you’re talking here about the “stick orchard” re: fruit size, but the older Wolf River apple that my Uncle Augie had produced a huge apple, about one pie size.


  2. I am skilled labour who will work at unskilled labour wages if given a place to live on the farmer’s land. And not even a nice place! Because yes, land is very expensive here. We can all help each other out.


    • I hear ya. That’s the way it was when I was young. It is no more. I’m on your side here. I also think we need to solve the land crisis, but I think that would mean reconciling with Indigenous people and ceasing to send our water downriver to Washington and Oregon.


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