New tree replant program atop fruit growers’ election wish-list

Penticton candidates for both main parties say they'll try to make it happen, but Liberals and NDP have different ideas for bankrolling it

At the very top of the B.C. fruit industry’s election wish-list is the creation of a permanent replant program, a concept that has taken root with both front-running political parties.

Such programs help orchardists with the cost of converting crops to newer, higher-yield varieties that are in demand, explained B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association president Jeet Dukhia, who said a permanent funding commitment is needed to give the industry certainty and help it stay competitive.

Funding for the fruit tree replant program dried up completely before the B.C. Liberal government announced last May a further $2 million over three years. The Liberals then committed in their election platform to “begin work on a permanent and sustainable” program once the current round of funding expires.

The NDP platform contains a similar promise, but also adds $4 million for a replant program as part of a two-year, $16-million package for growers.

“That looks pretty good for agriculture. That made us happy,” said Dukhia, who was careful to note that although his association is non-partisan, it’s hoping for more from the Liberals.

“We want to hear something new from the Liberal party, but there’s been nothing on agriculture from them,” he said.

Dan Ashton, the Liberal candidate for the Penticton riding, said he’s all for a permanent replant program.

“I’m in support and I’ll be taking that to government,” he said.

Dick Cannings, the NDP candidate for Penticton, said his party’s vision of the replant program is “a significant upgrade” to what’s in place now. Plus, “It’s our intention to make this permanent, make this consistent, so (growers) can plan ahead and know where they stand.”

The NDP’s agriculture plan also includes cash to re-establish a Buy B.C. marketing program and create a pilot project to increase the amount of locally produced food served in hospitals and long-term care homes.

“We don’t want to bite into the local health-care budget by insisting they buy local, so we’re providing some money to allow them to do that,” Cannings said.

The Liberal platform also contains a boost for marketing efforts with an additional $2 million for continuation of the Buy Local program. It then adds a tax credit for growers equal to 25 per cent of the wholesale value of food donated to a food bank, and recommits to a budget measure that will provide $24 million in carbon tax relief for the some parts of the agriculture sector.

Ashton noted he has 1.5 acres of cherries and apples planted at his Trout Creek farm, so, “I see the issues on a first-hand basis that the farmers are facing.”

He added that under his chairmanship, the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen took a strong stance against the possible commercial introduction of a genetically engineered apple variety.

“I’m a very strong supporter of agriculture,” Ashton said.

Both main parties have also expressed a desire to revamp liquor laws to help B.C. wineries and distilleries move their products, and pledged more support for organic growers.

Meanwhile, the B.C. Conservative candidate for Penticton, Sean Upshaw, said his party would implement a $500 tax rebate for consumers to offset the cost of buying local products, adopt more stringent standards for labelling of B.C. goods, and eliminate the carbon tax, which he said is a major burden on the agriculture sector.

Doug Maxwell, the B.C First Party’s candidate for Penticton, said he personally thinks the Agricultural Land Commission needs to be strengthened to help preserve remaining farm land, and, if elected, he’d speak to local growers before adopting policy positions.