family background/ Erin received her agriculture degree in organics at the University of Guelph in Ontario and is also active in local politics representing growers in Summerland. She is the daughter of Jan and Keith Carlson.
grower/Summerland, British Columbia
business/Carcajou Fruit Co.
How did you get your start?
I grew up on the farm and have been involved with it since about 5 years old. My parents weren’t farmers originally.
I was born in the Northwest Territories, where my dad worked on the oil pipeline. They decided to move back down into British Columbia where it was warmer and didn’t have all the mosquitoes.
My mother grew up in Penticton, and it made sense to them to return to the Okanagan Valley, where they ended up purchasing an older farm. The orchard had old cherry and apple trees, and none were really productive.
So, they ripped everything out and replanted. The farm has always been changing, and it’s been nice to watch it evolve and be part of.
What varieties grow well in this area?
Many of our farm’s cherry varieties have been bred in Summerland. This area is one of the latest places to harvest cherries each season in the Western Hemisphere.
We don’t finish cherry harvest until the end of August, sometimes first week of September. We do have some new trial varieties, and we’re hoping to see traits that work well with what we do here on the farm and will do well in the August market.
Most of our farm already grows many new varieties, with the oldest variety we produce being Lapins. We grow a lot of Sweetheart, Staccato and Centennial; all are varieties we strive to grow really well.
What are some of your farm’s challenges?
One of the biggest challenges with growing late-season cherries is how long the fruit hangs on the trees. From softer fruit, spotted wing drosophila, mildew, rain — the season just goes on and on and we have to keep protecting the fruit from these pressures for so long.
It sometimes costs a lot of money to do late season, and the process can produce other issues like losing stems if the weather is too hot, for instance.
We’re looking at using different pruning methods and options for covering the fruit to protect them from insects, birds and rain.
How has your education influenced your work on the farm?
When I studied organic agriculture at the University of Guelph, I learned about taking a more holistic view to growing.
After coming home, I realized that even though we’re using modern approaches, we struggle to go fully organic. I think moving toward organic practices works well with earlier varieties because when spotted wing starts flying around, there’s only so many times you can protect the cherries.
Even with that challenge, there’s potential for us to continue transitioning toward more sustainable practices.
How can you employ those practices on your farm?
When I talk with farmers who’ve been around here forever, they talk about times when they’d only spray once or twice a year. Hearing that, it’s evident they were probably spraying stuff that shouldn’t have been sprayed. We’re glad we aren’t using those sprays any more.
Right now, what we’re applying reduces the impact on the environment. Doing that also means the farmer is having to put in a lot more work and there’s going to be a lot more pest pressures that aren’t under control. Maybe that’s not all bad.
Consider the fact that we ship a lot of our fruit to Europe where the MRLs are really strict; we have more and more restrictions on what we can and cannot use here in Canada, compared to growers in the U.S.
If we have anything that’s over the limit, we could get into trouble, so it’s in our best interest to work within those restrictions and do our best.
What would you tell other young growers about the industry?
Agriculture isn’t just about growing things any more. There’s this whole global food system that we’re part of and our fruit potentially going all over the world.
Going to trade shows, you’ll be exposed to people from all over, under one roof talking about the industry. Growers today are part of that international system.
If you’re one of those people who don’t want to be the farmer, there’s still huge opportunities in agriculture to be involved and make a living.
Agriculture isn’t just what we do here on the farm, and we need to encourage people to participate in all of the different aspects that make up agriculture.
– by TJ Mullinax