In June of last year, shortly after appointing me as Minister of Agriculture, Premier Christy Clark sent me a mandate letter for my new portfolio. In it, she directed me to create a long-term and sustainable tree fruit replanting program upon the expiry of the current program.
I’m so appreciative that our agriculture team was able to find the resources to help me keep this commitment. It also could not be done without the help of industry representatives and stakeholders based here in the Okanagan. Your advice and insights were critical to ensuring we developed the best plan possible to provide certainty for growers. It will also ensure we continue to showcase the best tree fruits in the world, both here at home and internationally.
As BC Fruit Growers’ Association president Fred Steele remarked, this new program is not only appreciated—it’s essential to our growing future. He noted it will kick-start the rebuilding and redirection of the tree fruit industry in the 21st century.
The replant program, worth $8.4 million over seven years, will help growers meet consumer demands for higher-quality fruit. And are those demands ever growing! In 2013, B.C. exported $41.7 million in cherries, with Hong Kong, United States, Taiwan and China as our top markets. What’s more, B.C. apple exports have increased nearly 30 per cent in the past two years. In 2013, B.C. exported $19.1 million in apples, with the top three markets being United States, Mexico and Taiwan.
The intent of this replant program is not to compete with Washington State. We are focused on inter-provincial and international export of these high-quality goods which include popular Okanagan apples like the Ambrosia and Gala, and late-season cherries. We estimate that more than 1,500 acres of orchards will be replanted over the next 7 years, providing 2,600 jobs each year for the Okanagan.
Starting April 1 of next year, through to 2021, B.C. growers will be able to apply for this new program. I encourage you to keep an eye on the BC Fruit Growers Association’s website, www.bcfga.com, for new information and links to program requirements. The application form will be available on the site on January 15, 2015.
On a final note—I can’t talk about our high-quality apple products without offering a note of congratulations to B.C. growers, who captured the top spots in the Ambrosia, Golden Delicious, Aurora Golden Gala, and Heaviest Apple categories at this year’s National Apple Competition at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair (RAWF) in Toronto.
Accolades like these provide further proof of the oustanding quality and delicious taste of Okanagan produce—and the world can’t get enough.