Opinion

Orchardists left hanging

A year ago at this time, Okanagan orchardists were bleeding red ink because the cost of production outstripped the price of apples. Government was urged to help, but nothing of substance ever materialized.

Now, the situation is even more critical as the cost of growing apples is almost double what farmers pocket (22 cents compared to 12.6 cents a pound). With little capital readily at hand, it may be difficult for some growers to prepare this year’s crop. Some may just pull out their trees and walk away.

And that would be devastating for the Okanagan, particularly because of the $200 million the tree fruit sector pumps into the economy.

Farmers purchase equipment, supplies and trucks, but they also shop in local stores, eat in restaurants, donate to charities and pay taxes.

Also consider what the Okanagan would look like without those lush, green orchards.

It would be easy to write orchardists’ demands off as a bail-out or subsidy, but that is too simplistic of a view.

Given that the Agricultural Land Reserve restricts activities on private property—it cannot be used for non-farm uses—the government is obligated to fulfill the commitment it made in 1974 to provide support programs for farmers.

Unfortunately, decades of indifference have undermined those programs. Bureaucracy also allows foreign fruit to be dumped in Canada, creating a lopsided playing field.

B.C. Fruit Growers Association president Joe Sardinha questions why the government has not done more to ensure B.C. apples are not more readily available in the province’s schools, hospitals and B.C. Ferries. It’s a solution that would provide support to growers without the need for a government subsidy. It’s a move the province should embrace, and a way to provide support to an industry that has been left out on a limb for far too long already.

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