Okanagan growers benefit from replant program

B.C. Agriculture Minister Don McRae explains the new $2 million replant program to a mixed group of growers and politictians in an Oliver orchard.  - Steve Kidd/Western News Staff
B.C. Agriculture Minister Don McRae explains the new $2 million replant program to a mixed group of growers and politictians in an Oliver orchard.
— image credit: Steve Kidd/Western News Staff

The province of B.C. is targeting five new varieties of apples in the latest replant program being offered to the province’s fruit growers.

This week, Minister of Agriculture Don McRae announced a three-year, $2 million targeted replant program aimed at helping growers replant low-value orchards with high-demand varieties like Ambrosia, Gala, Pink Lady, New Summerland and Honeycrisp.

This comes in the wake of survey results released by the B.C. Fruit Growers Association showing that despite being in the fourth year  of low prices and losses, grower confidence in the industry is on the rise.

“We are in the fourth year of losses in the apple sector, yet there are nine per cent more growers thinking of expanding rather than contracting their apple acreage within the next five years,” said Kirpal Bopari, president of the BCFGA. The survey showed that 15 per cent of growers were planning to increase their acreage of apples, opposed to 6 per cent planning a decrease.

The BCFGA surgery, which was conducted by Angus Reid, also noted a general improvement in the outlook of tree fruit growers, as the percentage who plan to stay in the industry less than five years decreased to 22 per cent from 30 per cent in 2005 and percentage who plan to stay for five to 10 years increased from 25 per cent in 2005 to 41 per cent.

Many of the growers surveyed — nearly 50 per cent — also indicated the would increase the overall amount of acreage replanted over the next five years if the province offered another replant and renewal programs, similar to what was previously available.

“We have been asking the province for such a program to get growers the resources to renew and become economically sustainable,“ said Glen Lucas, General Manager of the BCFGA. “This survey shows the impact that replant/renewal programs have on growers’ plans to renew.”

McRae said the fruit growing is recognized at a core B.C. industry and work over the past several years to consolidate and enhance the sector has drawn government attention.

“The tree fruit industry has got its house in order, its an important industry, it brings jobs, it creates lifestyle, it creates identity in the Okanagan and we want to make sure the industry is thriving,” said McRae.  “We were able to get $2 million to do a targeted replant program because your industry is part of British Columbia. The reality is, you guys have been there for many years, and we want you here for a long time.”

“We want you to be able to plant crops, make sure that the packing houses are busy, so they have a full season,” said McRae. “You guys are the growers, you know how to make it happen. Government is going to provide a percentage of dollars, you folks are going to match it with your hard work. We look forward to you being very successful.”

The funding will help focus apple growers on a "right variety, right size, right grade" strategy to serve high-value fruit markets with apple varieties that thrive in B.C.'s climate. The program, which also includes a grafting and budding component, will operate for three years and growers can apply to participate in the program at any time.

The program will be administered by the BCFGA in partnership with the B.C. Investment Agriculture Foundation. Applications will be reviewed by a small panel with representation from the Ministry of Agriculture, the BCFGA and independent growers.


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