Growers prepared to educate new ag minister

The orchard industry is becoming quite practised at educating new agriculture ministers, so they're eager to meet this one too.

B.C. Fruit Growers Association president Jeet Dhukia.

He’s the 12th agriculture minister in B.C. in the past 20 years; the eighth in five years, but B.C. Fruit Growers Association president Jeet Dhukia says they’re prepared to educate another one.

Peace River North MLA Pat Pimm was sworn in this week as the newest in a long line of agriculture ministers in a short time, replacing Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick in that post.

Pimm was first elected in 2009 and is a former Fort St. John councillor. He has 25 years experience in the oil and gas industry and is president of Alpha Controls Ltd., a company that provides construction, maintenance and electrician services for construction projects.

Dhukia says he is hopeful the new minister will follow through on Letnick’s commitment to try to make a replant assistance program more permanent because it’s such a vital program to the industry’s continued survival.

The current program is just $2 million over two years, and “It’s all gone and there’s a big waiting list,” noted Dhukia.

Because such a major change as replanting an orchard takes years to bear fruit, growers have found it difficult to find the proper rootstock and trees to participate in the current program. It takes a couple of years to grow the seedlings and then another couple of years in the orchard before the first crop can be picked, he explained.

A replant program has to be a long-term program because of the planning that’s required, he says.

He says the BCFGA has written the new minister congratulating him and inviting him to the valley to meet growers and talk about the industry. He will tell him about growers’ concerns that this province’s agriculture ministry budget is the lowest in the country, and ask that it be brought up to the national average.

As well, he said the industry is working to get some compensation for the Columbia River Treaty, which not only provided flood protection for those south of the border, as it was intended, but also ended up providing cheap irrigation for orchards in Washington State.

As a result, the B.C. industry went from being 53,000 acres to today’s 17,000 acres in size. South of the border, there are now 100,000 acres of apple orchard where once there was just desert, he says.



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