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Feds make two major apple industry funding announcements in Kings County

Representatives from the federal and provincial governments and staff at the Kentville Research and Development Center celebrated a significant funding announcement for research into the growing and storage of high-quality Nova Scotia apples.
Representatives from the federal and provincial governments and staff at the Kentville Research and Development Center celebrated a significant funding announcement for research into the growing and storage of high-quality Nova Scotia apples. - Sam Macdonald
KENTVILLE, N.S. —

Good news abounded on Monday morning, set to the backdrop of an orchard at the Kentville Research and Development Centre.

A windfall of funding for apple growers in Nova Scotia was announced among Honeycrisp apple trees Aug. 12.

The federal government promised financial support for one of the Annapolis Valley’s greatest natural assets - the apple.
Federal Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced $384,490 in funding in support of research to improve the production and storage of high-quality apples, including the Honeycrisp and Ambrosia varieties.

Specifically, that funding will support the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers’ Association (NSFGA)’s efforts to control fungal disease and insect pests in apples. This research will also explore sustainable methods to increase harvest time and retain quality in apples post-storage.

An additional $167,526 was also promised, through the Pan-Atlantic Agriculture Project Partnership Initiative (PAPPI). This funding comes from the federal government, and the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

“Your members work tirelessly to produce the highest quality fruit, while protecting what makes this area so unique,” Bibeau said, addressing research station staff and guests. “Here in the Annapolis Valley, the Atlantic climate and rich soil are ideal to grow your berries, grapes and, of course, your world-famous apples.”

Bibeau said the funding will support 10 research projects.
“The goal is to grow and develop new environmentally sustainable tools and practices to help growers control pests and crop diseases, and harvest and store their crops,” Bibeau said.

Four research projects will test various organic and biological practices – and their effectiveness in the Maritime climate. Three projects will look at strategies to mitigate summer fungal disease and apples. The funding will also support surveying and testing orchards to control crop lost due to fungal diseases. Other projects will look into storage strategies.

“The goal is to ensure the highest-quality products that will lead to an increase in sales and exports – and a greater demand for our delicious Canadian apples,” Bibeau said.


MORE FUNDING

The same day, Bibeau also announced $2.5 million in federal funding for the purchase and installation of technology to aid Ocean Crisp Apple Company to increase capacity and improve efficiency through advanced apple-processing technology.

That money consists of a Canadian Agricultural Partnership AgriInnovate Program investment of $1.9 million, and $500,000 from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA).

This funding will cover the costs and installation of robotic equipment designed to increase capacity, improve efficiency and quality and reduce water use.

Information from the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food noted that this technology will also benefit other Atlantic apple producers getting their apples to high-value export markets.


TREE FRUIT GROWERS

“We couldn’t ask for more,” said Larry Lutz, president of the NSFGA. “It’s a good time to be in the tree fruit industry.”

Lutz said the research will help extend the harvest season since the window of opportunity to harvest apples is very narrow.

The research the federal government is supporting will look into ways to extend that harvesting window, allowing producers to grow a higher value product over a longer period of time.

It wasn’t always a good time to be in the fruit industry, Lutz noted, alluding to past industry shrinkage that almost led to the tree fruit industry becoming “basically inconsequential” until the planting of the first Honeycrisp trees in the late 90s.

“It was a game-changer. And in the last 20 years, it’s been a complete turnaround in our industry,” Lutz said. “There is a lot of optimism, we have all kinds of kinds coming back to the farms and land values have increased.”
It’s not all fun and games, Lutz explained, as guests gathered at top the hill, between the rows of apple trees. He noted that apple growers deal with storage issues, pests and a litany of other problems.
It is for those reasons that the research the funding will support is crucial to apple growers in the Valley, Lutz said.

“We can’t grow apples organically in Nova Scotia with our current technology. Part of this project looks at organic alternatives to some of the conventual processes we’ve been using,” Lutz said. “You don’t have to be all-organic, or all-conventional. There are all sorts of grey areas in between, and organic research adds to the conventional things we do.”
 


PROVINCIAL-LEVEL OPTIMISM

Provincial Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell spoke of how the funding will support orchard enhancement throughout Nova Scotia.

“It’s very exciting to see huge market shares for Honeycrisp apples and other high-end apples,” Colwell said.

Talking to guests, Colwell alluded to seeing conventionally grown Honeycrisps selling for $7.99/lb in Florida, versus Honeycrisps organically grown in Washington state for $2.49/lb.

“That gives an idea of how great (of a) job the research establishment has done here, and the farmers have done here,” he said.
Colwell hopes that he sees the Canadian apple market expand to Asia once the volume increases enough.

“New research will move it even further, to another level, which we need,” Colwell said, speaking to Kings County News shortly after the announcement.

He added that the provincial department has a goal of getting enough apples onto the market to be able to significantly expand the province’s exports and grow the economy. The funding and the research it will support, he said, is a step toward that goal.

Sam.Macdonald@kingscountynews.ca

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