Oliver’s farmland is beginning to look a little different, thanks to a provincial government program aimed at getting the newest varieties of high-yield fruits into BC orchards.
This year’s funding for tree fruit replant projects, part of $8.4 million that will be made available over seven years, is now available, and Oliver farmers are already vying for a piece of the action.
For decades, the government of British Columbia has been offering grants to help tree fruit farmers upgrade their orchards.
“The main goal is changing the planting from the old varieties that are demanding a lower price now and not getting shelf space in the grocery stores,” explained Pinder Dhaliwal, the vice-president of the British Columbia Fruit Growers’ Association.
“People want the newer varieties,” he said.
And farmers have been reacting to provide them with those new varieties. According to information provided by Glen Lucas of the BCFGA, in 2015 an estimated 288,330 trees covering 154.1 acres will be planted in the province.
Although those numbers are BC-wide, Lucas said that, with the exception of some in Creston, almost all of the new planting will be in the Okanagan-Similkameen.
Lucas’ data shows that Ambrosia apples are by far the most popular new fruit being planted, with 168,477 new trees expected to be planted by the end of 2015. Honey Crisp and Gala apples are also popular, with 44,000 and 54,000 of each trees estimated to be planted by the end of the year.
A few farmers are also planting new cherry varieties, with 3,628 Rainier cherry trees expected to be planted by the end of the year, and 1,227 Staccato trees. A small number of peach, pear and prune trees will also be planted.
While market demand for the newest kinds of apples, cherries and other tree fruit is a big driver, Dhaliwal said replanting can dramatically increase an orchard’s efficiency.
An acre of land planted with new varieties of apples, for example, will hold roughly 2200 trees. New cherry trees are also easier to harvest from, and can be planted in orchards more strategically.
“The old cherry trees were huge and a little higher. And they were planted maybe 20 by 20, maybe on a bigger spacing. But the new trend is higher, closer cherries, better pruning management … and of course keeping it low,” Dhaliwal said.
Greg Norton, a long-time Oliver farmer who has taken advantage of the money in the past, said the grant money “is a big deal” for a farmer looking to upgrade. “It doesn’t pay all of the costs, but it sure does help,” he noted.
“It’s just enough to help the grower out,” Dhaliwal said.
He explained that replanting an acre of orchard costs a farmer anywhere from $25,000-$30,000. That’s a big investment, and money received through the program is dolled out for each tree planted, covering about a third of the cost.
“That’s really nice, and the far
mers are taking advantage of it.”
By Trevor Nichols