While in Waterloo Region for business June 8, Conservative MP and president of the Canadian Treasury Board Tony Clement paid a short visit to Martin’s Family Fruit Farm.
Clement, who was scheduled to visit the troubled Research in Motion and participate in a roundtable discussion at Wilfrid Laurier University, toured the family-run facility and got a firsthand look at the apple industry.
“I represent Parry Sound-Muskoka so we don’t have a lot of apple orchards – we have a lot of rocks,” Clement quipped following his tour. “It’s great to see another part of the province and get to know this industry a little bit better.”
The tour was Kitchener-Conestoga MP Harold Albrecht’s idea, as he wanted to highlight a local business that he called “an icon” in the region and one with an incredible track record.
While Clement and the managers of Martin’s didn’t discuss possible changes to Employment Insurance in Canada and the impact it might have on migrant labour, or the possibility of the federal government providing financial aid to embattled apple producers – who have seen upwards of 90 per cent of their crop destroyed – he was sympathetic to their struggles.
On a good year Martin’s produces close to 125 million apples and employs 250 people during the fall harvest, but mild weather this past March accelerated the blooming of the apple blossoms, and when killer frost followed in April, it led to a devastating spring for apple growers across the province.
A 30 to 40 per cent loss in peach production has also been reported, along with the devastation of cherry and plum crops.
“We acknowledged that we’re in a partnership and that there are obviously programs that are helpful to the farmers when they need it, but we also acknowledged that weather is a part of farming,” said Clement.
“They (Martin’s) had a very good year last year, and as minister Clement said, it’s the ups and downs of farming and there has to be some flexibility to roll with the punches,” added Albrecht, noting the availability of programs such as the disaster relief plan AgriRecovery for farmers should they need it.
Discussion did centre on ways in which the industry can remain competitive during down years such as this, including a new product that Martin’s is looking to market by the end of the year called Martin’s Apple Crisps, a dehydrated apple ‘chip’ that makes use of lower-grade apples.
“We’re always looking at developing new products and other sources of revenue, and that’s why we’re excited about the dehydrated apples that we’re looking to launch at the end of the year,” said company president Kevin Martin.
They hope that by making better use of commercial-grade apples at their own processing facility, rather than shipping them out to third-party processors to make apple sauce or juice, they can maintain their levels of employment throughout the year in spite of the poor growing season, as well as boost their own bottom line.
Martin also said he hoped Clement would take their message of their struggles with him to Ottawa.
“It’s up and down, and we try to stay away from this far down. This is extraordinary, and if there is any added assistance it would be appreciated. I think both levels of government are at least looking at that.
“It’s a wait-and-see process.”
Clement isn’t the first high-ranking member of the Conservative party to stop by Martin’s in the past year, either. Last spring while on his campaign tour, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stopped in to the retail store to purchase some apple cider for a dinner that he was hosting in the region.