Fruit discussion focuses on water

The cost of water and how much is needed is dominating discussions between local politicians and farmers.

The B.C. Fruit Growers Association presented to Vernon and Coldstream councils Monday, and while the BCFGA had several topics of concern, civic leaders were focused on water.

“When we’re building for water capacity, four-fifths of what we’re building for is agricultural use,” said Rob Sawatzky, Vernon mayor.

In November, Greater Vernon residents will be asked to borrow up to $70 million for the master water plan, which includes filtration of the Duteau Creek treatment plant.

Much of that water goes to farm uses because agricultural and domestic water have not been fully separated.

“Meeting today’s (health) standards is expensive,” said Sawatzky.

The BCFGA was asked if it encourages its members to follow best practices for irrigation and water conservation.

“Agriculture has been making more efficient use of water and will continue to do so as time goes on,” said Glen Lucas, BCFGA general manager.

In Coldstream, it was pointed out that 57 per cent of the land base is in the Agricultural Land Reserve and of the properties in the ALR, 53 per cent of the parcels do not have farm status. That has had implications for water rates within Greater Vernon.

“We’re in a little bit of a crisis,” said Maria Besso, a Coldstream councillor.

Besso believes there is a need to consider the needs of local farmers as a way of ensuring food security and bolstering the economy.

“It’s going to be important for our farmers to have access to agricultural water,” she said.

Each year, the tree fruit sector in the Okanagan has farm gate sales of $74.5 million and a packed value of $160.5 million. It generates $552 million in economic activity.

The goal is to take unproductive land in the ALR and produce fruit crops that can be exported to markets around the world.

“There’s a bright future for our industry,” said Fred Steele, BCFGA president.

Other issues discussed included farm labour housing and changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve.


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