Funding boost for fruit tree replant program

Growers willing to replant their orchards to more marketable apples will have $2 million to help with the cost.

Growers willing to invest in replanting their orchards to new varieties of more marketable apples have $2 million from the province over the next three years to help them with the cost.

B.C.’s Agriculture Minister Don McRae was in the Okanagan last Wednesday to make the announcement, standing among the young apple trees in Steve Day’s Kelowna orchard, flanked by all three local MLAs and Richmond-Steveston MLA John Yap.

While McRae admitted that he didn’t even know what replant meant when he took on his current cabinet post, he said as a history teacher he realizes that orcharding is an important industry in the province’s heritage.

“Replanting would benefit the whole region,” he noted, helping the industry grow their markets across the country.

Westside-Kelowna MLA Ben Stewart said the industry is facing fiercer competition than ever before, and it needs to address that. The replant program is a starting point to meet that challenge, he said.

It’s a commitment in the agriculture sector and should help the Okanagan maintain its reputation for growing great apples, added Okanagan-Mission MLA Steve Thomson.

Although the assistance will help growers, Kirpal Boparai, a Kelowna orchardist and president of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association, was blunt about the importance of this three-year funding being continued beyond that time frame.

“We grow the best fruit in the world, particularly Ambrosia and Gala apples, thanks in part to Mother Nature,” he commented. He noted that the industry is not only important on its own, but also to the valley’s tourism industry.

He estimated it costs in the neighbourhood of $20,000 an acre for growers to replant to high-density apple trees, plus the farmer’s own labour, and this funding will only help with a portion of those costs.

A survey of growers completed this spring indicated orchardists are committed to stay in the industry if replant funding is available, so he said the industry really appreciates the support. There has been a replant assistance program available in the past, but it ended last year.

The program flows from the ministry’s Agrifoods Strategy. Its goal is to expand domestic markets through high-quality products by targeting premium varieties such as Ambrosia and red strains of Gala apples, said McRae. The program includes a grafting and budding component which helps to get new trees into production faster.

It will be administered by the BCFGA, which also administered the previous program, in partnership with the Investment Agriculture Foundation.

Applications will be reviewed by a panel and will be more directed than the previous program, to ensure the best varieties are grown in the best locations.