The tree fruit industry in the South Okanagan is in better shape than it has been in more than 30 years and the future looks even brighter after the provincial government committed an additional $1 million to its provincial replant program last week.
The provincial government has now committed $9.4 million in funding to the replant program that will help tree fruit growers across the province – the vast majority who live and work in the Okanagan Valley.
Funding for the program was announced in 2014 and started up last year and will continue until 2020-21.
“The B.C. government’s popular seven-year tree fruit replant program will now assist even more growers with an additional $1 million in funding over the duration of the program,” Boundary-Similkameen MLA Linda Larson announced last Thursday, during a press conference held outside the Osoyoos Visitor’s Centre.
Larson was joined by Penticton MLA Dan Ashton and they spoke on behalf of B.C. Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick.
Fred Steele, the president of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association, was on hand and smiling following the funding announcement.
Several local orchardists from Osoyoos and Oliver were also on hand for the announcement.
The announcement was made in the South Okanagan because this is where the majority of B.C.’s tree fruit growers call home, said Larson.
“The new funding is another step in the B.C. government’s commitment to support B.C.’s tree fruit growers, who have made the decision to replant their orchards with high-value, high-quality fruit varieties that are enjoyed by consumers locally and around the world,” she said.
For the 2016-17 season, it is estimated that $300,000 of the new funding will be made available and this will assist more than two dozen additional projects, with 122 additional acres being replanted in total, said Ashton.
The provincial tree fruit replant program is committing $9.4 million that will see at least 1,600 acres replanted by 2021, he said.
This will provide more than 2,400 jobs each year in the Okanagan Valley.
The application intake process for the 2016-17 season was so successful that it was significantly oversubscribed and has now closed, he said.
The new funding applications for the 2017-18 growing season will be made available on the Ministry of Agriculture website this fall.
“Increasing production, driving competitiveness and building markets are three key priorities of the B.C. Agrifood and Seafood Strategic Growth Plan that has an overall goal of growing the B.C. agrifood sector to a $15 billion a year industry by 2020,” said Larson.
“Given the high interest in the replant program, the B.C. government wanted to ensure there was adequate funding to meet the demand,” she said.
“I want to congratulate the Okanagan tree fruit sector on receiving the new funding and I wish them continued success as they reposition their orchards to high-value and high-quality fruit.”
Ashton said the replant program is an example of a program that is so successful, the provincial government saw the value in contributing more funding over an extended period of time.
“We heard loud and clear from growers that the replant program is a huge success for replanting low-value orchards with high-demand varieties like Ambrosia and Honeycrisp apples and late season cherries,” he said.
“This funding commitment will provide even more farming families with the chance to earn a higher income as they continue to support their local community.”
Steele said the funding is a huge commitment by the provincial government to the tree fruit industry across the province and especially here in the Okanagan Valley.
“The replant program is critical to the renewed growth of our industry, especially for cherry and apple production and the popularity of the program has caught everyone by surprise,” said Steele.
“The new funding announcement will help accelerate renewal and this is very positive news for growers.”
The tree fruit industry in the South Okanagan is now producing more high-quality and high-value fruit than it has at any time in the past 30 years, said Steele.
The $300,000 in additional funding for this year was needed as several growers are ready and willing to replant their orchards, he said.
“The additional funding for future years is a huge vote of confidence in our industry,” he said.
“We are truly thankful for the support of our MLAs. This announcement is proof that we share a vision of growth and positive outlook for the tree fruit sector.
“I would like to take a moment to reflect on why we have this support. It did not happen overnight. Our industry has known and worked with our MLAs before they become MLAs. Each and every one of them has known about the BCFGA and learned about the industry in their former lives, as municipal politicians.
“Our current MLAs, when they were starting out as municipal representatives, engaged with our industry. They listened intently to our annual industry update to city councils and asked us questions, often tough questions about the future of our industry.”
These political leaders have come to learn about the struggle and joy involved in producing good, healthy apples, cherries, peaches, plums, nectarines and apricots, he said.
“By working together and by being positive about our sector, by being a team, we can succeed,” said Steele. “By working together, by having a common vision, we are seeing strong growth in the cherry sector, with B.C. cherries being exported around the world. We are seeing enormous growth and positive returns by our locally discovered Ambrosia apple. There is much more potential, yet there will be hurdles for the industry to clear, but with the confidence that this new replant funding generates, our sector can go forward together and meet new challenges and conquer new markets.”
Brenda Jorde, member services co-ordinator and program administrator for the replant program with the BCFGA, said inspectors will closely monitor orchardists who receive funding to ensure they are following a strict protocol for tearing down old fruit trees and replanting new ones.
B.C. growers produced Canada’s second largest tree fruit crop in 2014, including more than 126,000 tons of apples, sweet cherries, peaches, pears, plums, prunes, nectarines and apricots.
There are nearly 6,000 tree fruit orchards in B.C., with the majority in the Okanagan Valley.
Apples account for the majority of land in tree fruits with 62 per cent, followed by sweet cherries at 22 per cent.
By Keith Lacey