Agricultural minister Don McRae defends replant program

B.C. Agriculture Minister Don McRae takes exception to fruit growers’ comments regarding the orchard replant program announced in May...

  • Jul. 8, 2012 8:00 p.m.

judie steeves

Black Press

B.C. Agriculture Minister Don McRae takes exception to fruit growers’ comments regarding the orchard replant program announced in May, and says it is intended as a targeted incentive program to encourage growers to replant to become more competitive.

The president of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association, Kirpal Boparai, had said last week he felt discouraged that the program did not begin this year instead of waiting until next year.

However, McRae points out that growers who had already replanted this spring did so as part of their business plan, not with the incentive of a replant program, and if it was retroactive to this year’s planting window, it would not have provided any incentive.

“This is for those who are struggling, to push them in the direction of replanting,” he explained.

In fact, beginning it this year would have meant those who hadn’t planned to replant this year anyway, could not be part of the program’s first year, so most orchardists would have been left out of the first year of the program, he noted.

“If we’re spending public money we want to ensure that everyone is eligible,” he said.

Trees have to be ordered ahead of time and nurseries need time to start them, ready for planting in a future year too, so next year would be the earliest the program could actually be an encouragement to growers to make the decision to replant, he added.

He is also hopeful, although it is not a requirement in the program, that growers will choose to support B.C. nurseries in sourcing their young trees, and beginning the program next year gives local nurseries a chance to plan ahead.

“I would like to see the benefits of the program spread around,” he commented.

McRae also pointed out that this is a different replant program, not a continuation of the one that finished a year ago.

This one applies only to orchards of a minimum size, and is only for growers who are planting varieties of apples which are receiving premium prices in the marketplace and which are appropriate in the location of the orchard, to ensure the best quality fruit and the best returns for growers.

Even if land has not been planted in the last few years, if it was orchard with the last five years, it’s eligible for this replant program, he said.

It’s targeted to encourage the industry to become more competitive, he added.

“I’m pleased we are able to provide this $2 million program.”

“The tree fruit sector is going through challenging times. This is an incentive program to encourage best practices. Some replant programs in the past have not been so successful. We want the industry to be viable for a long time,” he said.

Growers will not be allowed to replant to a different tree fruit, so that government is not encouraging them to switch to what seems to be a higher value fruit, because packing facilities need to process a variety of fruits, harvested throughout the season, not just a single fruit.