Posted on 30 May 2012 by Mathew White
The provincial government made a generous donation last week, providing fruit tree growers from the Okanagan Valley with $2 million in funding to help replant low value and desolate orchards with high-demand varieties.
“Part of the issue right now is there are a lot of farmers that have old crops … they’re 25-to-30-year-old varieties that aren’t getting as much per pound as some of the new varieties,” said John Slater, MLA for Boundary-Similkameen. “So this gives the farmers an opportunity to change varieties and try and get more per acre.”
“I think it’s a great program. If we can help the growers at making more per acre and per pound, that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Kirpal Boparai, president of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association (BCFGA), said he too is pleased with the funding announcement.
“This $2 million is a start and it’s greatly appreciated,” said Boparai. “It shows how the relationship is growing between the government and the BCFGA. This is replant money, so this will get people going with the replant of the right varieties in the right locations.”
The replanting program is set to run for three years in B.C. and is being administered by the BCFGA in partnership with the B.C. Investment Agriculture Foundation. Okanagan fruit grower will first fill out an application, saying what they would like to replant and how much.
Upon approval, the farmer will plant the crop (apples, cherries or soft fruit) and will initially have to pay for everything up front. Once the crop has been planted, inspected and approved, the grower can then apply for roughly 25 per cent of the start-up funds to be refunded.
Boparai said the grant was given out now because the industry has had a hard time bouncing back from the recession.
“Over the last four years it’s been really stressful and people were unable to plant so this will encourage replanting,” said Boparai. “It’s just a little motivation.”
Boparai said the Okanagan fruit growing industry has been a major player in the economics of this province for years, averaging around $300 million annually. Because the industry generates so much annually, Boparai said $2 million is really only a small portion of what they need. The money would cover roughly 300 acres of replanting, when the entire industry holds about 7,000 acres of land, he said.
“So I strongly hope the government doesn’t think this $2 million means we’re set for life,” said Boparai.
In the future he would like to see this program extended and expanded.
He would also like to see the introduction of innovative programs for the industry. In 2011, B.C. apple exports alone generated $11 million through the United States and $1 million in Mexico and Vietnam.