Lack of 2012 replant funds leaves growers out on a limb

B.C. Fruit Growers Association upset that provincial funding not available until next year

Fruit growers who replanted parts of their orchards this spring aren’t going to be getting any financial help from the provincial government.

Though no plan had been announced, many growers went ahead with their replant plan in the spring hoping that the province would come through with a continuation of the existing program they had based their years-long replant strategy on. In late May, Agriculture Minister  Don McRae did announce the Orchard Replant Program 3, continuing government efforts to help fruit growers make competitive revitalizations to their orchards.

The details provided at the time did not specify a startup date for the program, but the B.C. Fruit Growers Association expected the funding to be available for 2012. They were disappointed to find out that though the funding had been transferred from last year’s provincial budget, it was not going to be available to growers until the 2013 replant season.

When he learned of the delay in implementing the program, BCFGA president Kirpal Boparai asked McRae to reconsider the startup date.

“Growers understood from the funding announcement that the program would be available in 2012,” he said. “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.”

Past replant programs have continued from the end of the previous year, fitting with the long-term plans growers need to make to purchase nursery trees and care for them until they are a mature part of their orchard.

“When they plant a tree, it’s a 20-year deal, and changing programs from year to year is not helpful,” said Glen Lucas, executive director for the BCFGA. “Certainly, we need to tweak them and get things moving in different directions. But this kind of one-year reaction is very detrimental to long-term planning and long-term confidence.”

The disruption comes at a financial cost to those farmers that did do a replant this spring, affecting them negatively compared to other growers, according to Lucas, who said the BCFGA argued on that basis but were unsuccessful in convincing the minister.

“I don’t believe the minister understands the planning process for replant. It is a multiyear process. People are not planning next year right now, they are planning two and three years down the road,” said Lucas.

He thinks the ministry is concerned that growers who did replant were acting on leaked information, and themselves had an unfair advantage. However, Lucas continued, neither he nor Bhopari, who conducted the negotiations, are eligible for the replant program, and everyone else had the same information.

“If you phoned up, we gave you the same information as everyone else. ‘We’re hopeful but until it is announced, we don’t know the details,’” Lucas said. “Things can change right up to the last minute and I think they did with this program.”

The replant program provides about $7,000 per acre in grants 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 has 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. The program also encourages high-density plantings, which use more efficient irrigation systems and reduce volumes of pesticides as orchards are more compact.

“At a staff level, we’re working on the program for next spring’s replanting,” said Lucas. “If the politicians change their minds or if our executive is able to communicate with the minister and have him change his mind, then we could work on getting eligibility for the replant projects that were completed in May or June.”