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Replant program change could flood the market with cherries

Valley
Valley's tree fruit growers showed their appreciation for Norm Letnick's presentation to them at Saturday's convention
— image credit: Judie Steeves/Capital News

There are concerns about the agriculture minister’s decision to permit tree fruit growers to replant to different varieties of fruit, but most agree people can’t be prevented from replanting from apples to cherries.

The $2 million replant assistance program announced last year to begin this year, was for orchardists to replant from one fruit to a new, higher-value fruit variety; not from one fruit to a different one.

However, agriculture minister Norm Letnick told growers at Saturday’s B.C. Fruit Growers Association convention in Penticton that—under pressure from growers—the program would be changed to allow replanting from one fruit to a different one.

Christine Dendy, president of the Okanagan-Kootenay Cherry Growers Association, admitted you can’t stop people from growing whatever they want to grow, so in that sense she agreed with the decision.

However, she said it’s important that growers think before they replant from apples to cherries.

First, they should think about how they’re going to pick them and pack them, and about such issues as labour and water.

Cherries are a riskier crop to grow because they’re a more-delicate and a more-perishable crop which can’t be stored for months as apples can.

Market conditions are volatile for that reason: they all come on the market as they ripen instead of some going into storage.

“If growers can grow them and market them well, it wouldn’t be so bad. But, they have to grow consistently better-quality fruit,” she commented.

“It’s easier to handle a large crop if it’s good quality, but substandard cherries drag prices down for everyone,” she added.

If the replant program creates a spike in expansion of cherry acreage, it’s another reason why it’s important that all growers get together and form a B.C. Cherry Council, which would work on trade access issues to countries such as China, which represents a huge potential market for B.C. fruit, said Dendy.

In addressing growers, Letnick said the replant program is there to support growers to want to take advantage of the market’s demand for high-value apples and other tree fruits and encourages growers who plan to switch to higher-value varieties, to make the change.

“My objective is still the same, to promote the growth and production of high-value, high-quality B.C. fruit, and to develop a stronger, more sustainable tree fruit sector that results in growers earning more dollars,” he said.

As well, following talks with individual growers, Letnick said he will commit to work on making the replant program regular, annual, sustainable and bankable to benefit growers’ profitability and competitiveness.

jsteeves@kelownacapnews.com

 

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