Posted on 05 July 2012 by Keith Lacey
A government program announced several months ago to provide much-needed assistance to the fruit growing industry in the South Okanagan has been postponed, which will leave a lot of struggling farmers in perilous financial shape, says the president of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association (BCFGA).
The BCFGA announced last week that its request to have a new program start in 2012 has failed. The Orchard Replant Program 3 is a continuation of earlier programs that have helped tree fruit growers revitalize their orchards in a bid to remain competitive.
B.C.’s Minister of Agriculture, Don McRae, announced the creation of the replant program on May 23 with much fanfare in an orchard in Oliver.
The BCFGA expected the replant program to be available for 2012, but has been informed the program won’t start until the spring of 2013.
“We’re going to have some farmers that might not make it because of this decision,” said Kirpal Boparai, who was named BCFGA president this past spring. “Some of them are not going to be able to hang on until next year and are going to lose their farms or be forced to sell.
“It doesn’t make any sense to me in any way, shape or form.”
The replant program will provide about $7,000 per acre in grant funds towards the $25,000 to $30,000 per acre cost of replanting an apple orchard, or about 30 per cent of the total cost.
A series of government studies have shown that the industry does not have the resources to renew the infrastructure in orchards and the replant program helps growers achieve a higher level of self-sufficiency, said Boparai.
The program also encourages high-density plantings, which use more efficient irrigation systems and reduce volumes of pesticides as orchards are more compact, he said.
Upon learning of the delayed start-up of the Orchard Replant Program 3, Boparai said he immediately asked the minister to reconsider the start-up date.
“Growers understood from the funding announcement that the program would be available in 2012. When the BCFGA found out that this was not the case, we made every effort to explain to the minister the need for funding this year, as well as to respond to his concerns. Unfortunately, it seems as though our appeal has fallen on deaf ears,” Boparai said.
The funding was transferred from last year’s provincial budget, so delaying the start-up of the program does not impact government finances, he said.
“The money is already expended as far as the government is concerned,” said Jeet Dukhia, BCFGA vice-president. “Why did the minister rush to come to our beautiful valley and give growers false hope? There is definitely a feeling of betrayal from our members.”
“If they didn’t have the money, I would understand, but they have already committed this money and there’s no rational reason for not starting the program this year,” he said. “They had this huge photo op promoting the program and within a few weeks, they announce they are shutting it down for this year. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”
While the government decision will hurt established fruit growers, there are also a significant amount of young growers who want to start their own orchards, but will be dissuaded from doing so this year because of this decision, said Boparai.
The BCFGA represents 575 commercial tree fruit growers in B.C. who produced a 2011 farmgate value of $78.4 million on 14,800 acres, according to Statistics Canada. Most of the B.C. tree fruit production is located in the Okanagan-Similkameen Valleys, with the Creston and Shuswap Valleys also producing commercial volumes of tree fruits.