Replant program expected to create thousands of Okanagan jobs

A new seven-year, $8.4 million provincial replant program is expected to revitalize the tree fruit industry.

A new seven-year, $8.4 million provincial replant program will revitalize the tree fruit industry, according to the B.C. Fruit Growers Association.

“The replant program will kickstart the rebuilding, and redirection of the Tree Fruit Industry for the 21st Century,” said BCFGA president Fred Steele in a release.

That’s not an exaggeration, according to Steele, who explains a new industry strategy is being developed to create more inventory and jobs through some innovative thinking, and the new replant program is the lynchpin to making them work.

One concept under development is to work with New Zealand and exchange fruit during each country’s off season.

“We will hopefully send them pre-sort fruit to run over their graders and give them jobs in their summer season,” said Steele. Then, in B.C.’s quiet season, fruit could be brought in from New Zealand, creating year-round jobs in both countries, and fresh fruit year round.

More processing capability would also allow both countries to build larger inventories of fruit.

Developing niche markets is another concept.

“In Korea right now, there is a 45 per cent tariff. In five to seven years there will be no tariff,” said Steele. “How long will it take us to get that up and running? Five to seven years.”

Key to all of these developments, though, is the replant program, allowing growers to remove varieties like Red Delicious apples that have fallen out of favour, and replace them with more saleable fruits like Ambrosia or Gala.

Replanting costs between $25,000 and $30,000 per acre for a high-density orchard, according to the BCFGA. Converting to new, high quality varieties of cherries, pears, peaches, nectarines and plums means greater consumer acceptance and higher returns to tree fruit operations.

“We are talking about building inventories, we are talking about going to new varieties that are profitable and phasing out the ones that aren’t,” said Steele. “We have to stop trying to find the cent a pound every year and do some things differently. And if we don’t we may as well all pack up and go home.”

Growers will be able to apply for grants beginning April 1, 2015 through to the 2021 season. An estimated 1,500 acres of orchards will be replanted over the length of the program, providing an estimated 2,600 jobs each year in the Okanagan.

“We are proud of the heritage of B.C.’s tree fruit industry and we look forward to continuing our partnership in promoting high-value, high-quality B.C. fruit so our growers can earn more dollars,” said Norm Letnick, minister of agriculture.