Farmers face growing losses

NDP leader visits local fruit growers

B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix and agriculture critic Lana Popham take a bite of Summerland apple orchardist Peter Simonsen’s product.

B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix and agriculture critic Lana Popham take a bite of Summerland apple orchardist Peter Simonsen’s product.

The B.C. Fruit Growers president said the apple crop this year looks promising, but farmers are still scraping by financially because of the lack of assistance and programs from the government.

“We are following on the heels of three difficult years in a row where there is a lot of concern in the industry, a lot of debt mounting for the growers and growers not meeting the cost of production,” said president Joe Sardinha.

“Just the whole sustainability of the industry is really at stake. Overall there is a pretty good crop out there that came with a lot of work, but also came with growers having mounting debts because the previous years’ returns just weren’t paying the bills … There is quality fruit that is going to be out there on the market, but all the same the financial outlook and picture for some growers is still very bleak and this is where the assistance is very much appreciated. Something direct into the pockets of growers.”

B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix was touring an apple orchard near Summerland on Tuesday with agriculture critic Lana Popham, proposing measures Premier Christy Clark needs to include in her jobs plan to boost the Okanagan agriculture and tree fruit industry.

“I sat through a throne speech last week and the word agriculture wasn’t mentioned once, and for me that just shows the priority for agriculture with this government is dropping,” said Popham.

“I was told I didn’t listen hard enough by the government. Unless they are using code words for agriculture now, I honestly didn’t hear it and that is sad because right now due to tough economic times we really have to start making our domestic market for agriculture a lot more stable.”

Both Dix and Popham said support programs for the agriculture and most importantly the tree fruit industry are needed to put the domestic market in a stable place so farmers can then seek the potential in the international market.

“Right now we have four million people that eat three times a day in British Columbia, and if that is not a marketplace that we should be selling and growing then we are crazy. It really hurts me as a farmer to see the struggle that is going on,” said Popham.

Dix re-iterated initiatives that he announced months ago that are expected to be on the NDP election platform to help the tree fruit industry including investing $7.5 million in the industry in the form of a one-time payment to orchardists of $5 million and $2.5 million to reinstating the Buy B.C. program.

“When you think about it, it is about what the Liberals spent on HST partisan ads in the recent referendum campaign,” said Dix. “It would make a huge difference in the short run in the tree fruit industry, to not just make some transition in terms of technology, but to get through a difficult period where clearly prices haven’t matched the cost of production and it wouldn’t make sense on the short run to abandon the industry based on that.”

Dix stated that there also needs to be more government purchasing when it comes to buying food locally.

“It doesn’t make sense to us that hospitals in B.C. buy almost no local food. We have some small farm-to-school programs but they could be significantly bigger. We need to promote local purchasing, especially in agriculture. It would have a double benefit, one of improving the quality of food in hospitals, like the one here in Penticton and the one in Kelowna, but also it would have obviously real value for local communities,” said Dix,