Local growers learned Tuesday from the government that funds announced in May to re-start the replant assistance program will not be available until 2013, and Kirpal Boparai, president of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association says that’s very discouraging.
A Kelowna grower, Boparai says that means that none of the $2 million announcement in May will actually reach growers’ hands until a year from September, a fact which could be the last straw for some farmers, who are already in a weakened financial state because of a poor market for apples.
“Some could go out of business, especially if they believed the replant program would go ahead when government announced it,” he said.
“The money is just sitting there, but they won’t go ahead until next year,” he said.
The $2 million would provide about $7,000 per acre towards the estimated cost of $25,000 to $30,000 per acre to replant an apple orchard, or about 30 per cent of the total cost, he said.
BCFGA general manager Glen Lucas said a quick survey of growers this week who have enquired about the program indicated that about 37 have replanted this year, expecting there would be a replant program available for some assistance this year.
He said they would have based that on recommendations of a joint grower-government working group that recommended last fall continuing the replant program and then the agriculture minister’s statement that he supported that recommendation when he spoke to growers at their convention in January.
“Growers don’t embark on a one-year replant plan; it’s a five-year program,” explained Lucas. It’s a big investment and it’s several years before the new trees come into production, so there’s no income from that acreage during that time.
The program will encourage high-density plantings, which use more efficient irrigation systems and reduce the amount of pesticides used as orchards are more compact.
It would only be available to growers who planted more-popular, newer varieties that draw better prices in the marketplace and help growers be more competitive.
Boparai claims the funding announcement was just a photo op for government politicians who “threw smoke in growers’ eyes.
“They announced it but intended it to begin a year later,” he said.
He noted that it’s not a new program, but one which government cut off a year ago, so he sees no need to delay re-starting it by two years.
It will be administered by the BCFGA, which administered the previous program as well.
Boparai said as soon as they learned the new program was not to be started until next year, they lobbied government to begin it immediately, but Tuesday the final answer came back negative.
“This was just a glamourous announcement for the public. We have nothing,” he added.
He believes the government wants to see more growers exit the industry, so they are delaying the start of the program so that some will have to go out of business.
“They are penalizing young people for spending money to replant and now they discover they are not eligible,” he said.
“They got farmers’ hopes up and now they’ve let them down,” Boparai concluded.
“This government seems to have no interest in helping growers. We’ve been misled.” he said.