Orchardists harvest a new crop of funding

Ministry of Agricultural plants seed for future strength in orchard industry

North Okanagan orchardists are hopeful provincial funds will add strength to the industry.

The Ministry of Agriculture is providing $2 million to replant low-value crops with more high-demand varieties.

“We have to be competitive and right on top,” said Hardev Aujla, a farmer in the Bella Vista area.

“You can’t survive with older trees.”

Funding will cover both new tree stock and grafting on to existing trees.

“The cost of replanting is a new expense. If we get some help, it will help a lot,” said John Dobernigg, whose family runs a BX orchard.

Dobernigg’s only concern is the program should be five years in length, not three.

“You have to put orders in (to purchase trees) and it takes time to get rolling,” he said.

A grower must be farming at least five acres to be eligible for assistance, and must be willing to replant at least a minimum of one acre.

Glen Lucas, B.C. Fruit Growers Association manager, isn’t concerned planting new apple varieties will lead to a market glut, forcing prices down.

“With Gala, by being the best in the world, we have an advantage,” he said.

With more than 600 growers in the industry, officials admit the funding is limited.

“Definitely $2 million is not enough but it shows the government is working and listening to us,” said Kirpal Boparai, BCFGA president.

“It gives us two to three years to work with them and hopefully there will be more money.”

Of the 11,000 acres of tree fruits in the sector, the $2 million will replant about 350 to 400 acres.

And even with the help, growers will face a significant financial burden.

Lucas says that if 2,000 trees are replanted, the total cost will be $20,000, with only $7,000 covered by the province.

On top of that, there will be the cost of posts, wires and irrigation lines and the new trees won’t produce any fruit for three to four years.

Eric Foster, Vernon-Monashee MLA, says the $2 million revitalization fund is a result of lobbying by himself and his Okanagan colleagues.

“We talk to the growers all of the time and the minister listened to us,” he said.

During a stop in Vernon Wednesday, Agriculture Minister Don McRae emphasized the need to meet the demands of consumers.

“Farming is never easy but we want to ensure this industry remains the heritage industry it’s always been,” he said.

 

Vernon Morning Star

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